Book People: Claire Saxby

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Book People: Claire Saxby

I have long loved the work of Claire Saxby and her latest work is no exception – in fact it possibly my new favourite illustrated fiction book (this is what I term picture books for an older audience – from middle primary). ‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ is a very personalized tale of a young convict girl on her journey to Australia, published by Walker Books.  The story is based on a quilt, made up of 2815 pieces, which was sewn by convict women which is now held in the Gallery of Australia – some nice primary source research opportunities there!my-name-is-lizzie-flynn

To add any titles by Claire Saxby to your home, school or library collection click on titles or cover images. 

‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ has strong ties to the Australian Curriculum and below my interview with Claire I have detailed this further. The illustrations are sumptuous and emotive and first time illustrator Lizzy Newcomb surely has a  strong career in the book industry ahead of her. I shared my favourite page of image/text interplay on Instagram and you can see it below.

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I am so pleased to have Claire join me here today for my ‘Book People’ series – which now has over 60 Australian authors and illustrators featured – see all here. Thank you for your time Claire and I’m with you on the sourdough bread – one of my favourite things to bake!

Ten Things You Need to Know About Claire Saxby

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1. Tell us about your latest book.

‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ is a picture book and tells the story of a young convict girl sent to Australia for stealing a shawl. When they board the Rajah, each convict is given a ‘useful bag’ full of fabric, thread, needles and more. It is also a story of the construction of one of Australia’s most important textiles, the Rajah Quilt and its role in Lizzie’s life. Note: The quilt is now held in the Gallery of Australia.

2. How did you get started as a writer?

I began writing and publishing poetry for both adults and children after attending some local writing classes. I soon realised that it was children’s stories that I was most wanted to create. My first publications were with educational publishers and the wonderful NSW School Magazine. I have drawers full of ideas and undercooked stories (or overcooked? Who knows?). My first picture book made it as far as the final proofs before the publisher went out of business. It took another 6 years before another picture book finally made it to print. In one of life’s wonderful twists, the illustrator of that book is now working on a new picture book I’ve written.

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day? I wish there was such a thing. An ideal (and occasionally realised) day begins with a walk with my dog (and if I’m extra lucky – my son). Then I clear emails and begin. Depending on what I’m working on, I’ll write until lunchtime, take a lunch break then write again until late afternoon. Sometimes that’s on a single project, sometimes it’s on different manuscripts at different stages of development. When I break in the late afternoon, that’s usually it for the day. I don’t make a lot of sense after dinner. That’s when I’ll read.

One day recently, I spent about three hours on one sentence in a picture book. AGGGGH! Finally, I walked away from it. The ideal sentence came to me early next morning.

4. Can you describe your workspace for us?

Ooh, It’s relatively ordered, but quite crowded. I’m lucky enough to have my own office in my house, but particularly when I’m working on non-fiction, the desk becomes very crowded with resource books and drafts and artefacts. There will also be books to be read and reviewed, small pieces of paper with scribbled ideas, pens, pencils, emu feathers, billy can, cds, camera and more. There’s also a toy ute called Bandit, which I’m sure will appear in a story if I leave it in my eyeline long enough.

5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?

Read. Read everything. Comics, shopping lists, novels, magazines, signs, labels. Talk about what you see. Write often. Write without editing to begin with. I write in a notebook but only on every second line. That way I can read it easily (yes that does mean I have messy writing) and I can also come back later and play with the words.

6. Do you have a favourite book or character?

There’s too many great books to have a favourite. That said, I loved fairytales when I was young. I had several beautiful collections from all around the world and I read and reread them over and over. At one stage, they vanished when we moved countries, but I rediscovered them in my cousin’s house and when her children were done with them, I reclaimed them. I can still remember the number of pages in the biggest collection: 832. Loved it.

7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?

I work part time in a bookshop and I love being able to match readers with books. If I couldn’t do that, then I’d stay home and make quilts and sourdough bread!

8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?

I tend not to listen to music while I’m working on my books. Partly because I like to be able to hear the sounds of the house and the street (and the postie) but also partly because I get so involved I forget to change cds. When I was working on ‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ I did listen to a collection of sea shanties. They helped me to smell the ocean, to feel the rolling deck beneath my feet.

Food? Hmm. I try not to have any food near my desk – mostly because I wouldn’t keep track of how much I’d eaten! There is a packed of naked ginger in my pen and pencil drawer. Oh, alright, occasionally I do have chocolate. By hiding that in the same drawer, there’s at least a little chance that I’ll forget it’s there.

9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

Ooh that would be telling! I pick bits and pieces of many people to build into my characters, so no one is recognisable! I’ve lived in a lot of houses, in a lot of different places, and I do borrow from them, although I mix and match them too. When I started to write, I did write a lot about things that had happened to me. I think it was part of trying to clear my head for other ideas. The longer I write, the less ABOUT me is in my work, although I’m sure bits creep in.

10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?

I wish we could learn from what has happened in the past and not repeat the same mistakes over and over. And yes, I am talking about war and politics.

Other titles by Claire Saxby  – click on covers to purchase

emu big-red-kangaroomeet-weary-dunlopmeet-the-anzacsseadogthere-was-an-old-sailorchristmas-at-grandad-s-farma-nest-for-kora‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ has some strong ties the Australian Curriculum, particularly with these English/Literarture Content Descriptors for Year Five:

Identify aspects of literary texts that convey details or information about particular social, cultural and historical contexts (ACELT1608)

Recognise that ideas in literary texts can be conveyed from different viewpoints, which can lead to different kinds of interpretations and responses (ACELT1610)

And in Humanities and Social Sciences/History/Year Four/Year Five:

The nature of convict or colonial presence, including the factors that influenced patterns of development, aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants (including Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples) and how the environment changed. (ACHHK094)

Stories of the First Fleet, including reasons for the journey, who travelled to Australia, and their experiences following arrival. (ACHHK079)


The titles of each book takes you to the Australian based online bookstore Booktopia. You can also compare prices on Fishpond and Bookworld for Australian purchases.If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here. Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.

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