Book People: Belinda Murrell

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Belinda Murrell is one of my favourites in the kidlit world. Am I even allowed to have favourites?! She is a completely wonderful person and a damn great writer to boot. One of her ‘Pippa’s Island’ novels is dedicated to PudStar, who reviewed the series here and here and who tells anyone who will stand still that she has a book dedicated to her. The dedication reads, For Ava, a sassy girl who is ‘strong, smart, brave and…’ just like Pippa (thank you Belinda…you will never know how much this means to her).

Belinda’s latest book, ‘Meet Zoe and Zac at the Zoo’, is now one of ChickPea’s firm favourites – mainly because it’s set in Dubbo Zoo, which is high on her list of ‘places to visit’ (along with the moon and Antarctica). As with all of Murrell’s books, ‘Meet Zoe and Zac at the Zoo’ is writing of the highest quality, engaging and clever. I love it when great authors turn their attention to writing books for our youngest readers because this is where a love of reading begins….

Thank you for joining us today lovely Belinda!

Author Belinda Murrell

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1. Tell us about your latest book.

‘Meet Zoe and Zac at the Zoo’ is the first book in the gorgeous new Aussie Kids series for young readers aged 6 to 9, which celebrates the diversity of Aussie kids and families. Eight books introduce children to characters living in unique locations in every state and territory in Australia – from a Victorian lighthouse, to an outback sheep farm in WA or a beach in Queensland. 

In my book, Zoe and Zac are ‘almost twins’ who live next door to each other right inside the zoo at Dubbo in NSW. For their seventh birthday treat, Zoe’s Mum, the Head Zookeeper, is taking them on an adventure to help look after the animals. Working at the zoo is not quite what they expected, especially when they realise that something is not right with Amali the lioness. 

The book is inspired by a wonderful week I had as a teenager helping the vet at Dubbo Zoo, who was a close family friend. As a vet’s daughter, I loved looking after all the amazing animals from hippos, lions, giraffes, elephants to the tame three-legged wombat who hopped around the vet hospital. 

The book is beautifully illustrated by indigenous artist David Hardy. 

‘Aussie Kids: Meet Zoe and Zac at the Zoo’

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2. How did you get started as a writer?

I’ve always loved writing since I was a child. After studying journalism and creative writing at university, I worked as technical writer, editor and freelance travel writer for many years but always had the dream of writing fiction. My first three books, a fantasy adventure series, were written for my own three children about 14 years ago and later published as the Sun Sword Trilogy.  I’ve been a full-time author ever since which has been such a joy! I’m now working on my 34th book!

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

This has changed recently, as my children have now left school and are studying at university. All three still live at home, but don’t need me as much, which means I have a much longer working day than when they were younger. If it is a writing day, I start at my desk at about 7am with a cup of tea to check emails, do admin and answer letters from young fans. About 9am I take my dog Rosie for a walk along the beach, then come back, make a strong coffee and start writing. I write most of the day, especially if I’m getting close to deadline, usually finishing up in the evening just in time to cook a family meal and juggle a few household chores. A huge part of being a children’s author is visiting schools, speaking at festivals and doing literary events, so I probably spend about 12 weeks a year touring and speaking. It’s insanely busy but so rewarding. 

Belinda at one of her many author visits (to my school, St Aidan’s)

4. Can you describe your workspace for us?

I am lucky enough to have my own gorgeous office at home with a massive desk, a fireplace, thousands of books and a beautiful view over the garden. 

Belinda’s lovely office

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

Read. Read. Read! Reading books makes you smarter, more empathetic and a better writer. Plus it’s fun.  

6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?

As a child, I adored ‘Little Women’, by Louisa May Alcott, with its wonderful cast of characters, particularly creative and quick-tempered Jo March. My daughter and I recently watched the movie, which was brilliant. Another childhood favourite was ‘Seven Little Australians’ by Ethel Turner, with another cast of lively, naughty characters especially feisty, Judy Woolcot. 

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

When I was younger, I always wanted to be a vet, like my Dad, because I adored caring for animals. More recently, I have enjoyed renovating our homes so perhaps I could have been an interior decorator (I had fun renovating my fictional boathouse in Pippa’s Island). I also love teaching creative writing so perhaps I should have been an English teacher! Or a publisher? 

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

Chocolate is my go-to stress food, when I’m working to a tough deadline. I love the idea of listening to music while I write but I find it far too distracting, so I work in complete silence. 

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

Lots! My writing is very much inspired by real life, family stories and travel adventures, so many of my characters are initially based on my own experiences or people I know. Yet of course imagination plays a huge part, taking elements of real personalities but making them funnier, smarter, quirkier and more memorable. 

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

I wish that children around the world could all have a loving family, enough to eat and a brilliant education.

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