Book People: Belinda Murrell
This post is part of a series for the StoryArts Festival Ipswich, showcasing some of the brilliant authors and illustrators who will be in attendance at the festival in September 2013.
An internationally published, bestselling children’s author, Belinda Murrell’s 18 books include ‘The Sun Sword Trilogy’, a fantasy-adventure series for boys and girls aged 8 to 12. Her time-slip books – ‘The Locket of Dreams’, ‘The Ruby Talisman’, ‘The Forgotten Pearl’, and ‘The Ivory Rose’ – have been shortlisted for various awards, including KOALAs (2013, 2012 and 2011), CBCA Notable List and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards. Her new book, ‘The River Charm’, is based on the thrilling adventures of her ancestors. For younger readers (aged 6 to 9) Belinda has a new ‘Lulu Bell’ series, about friends, family, animals and adventures growing up in a vet hospital.
Belinda was a guest author to my school library recently. Her books were super popular before her visit…but now they are just never ever on the shelves. I run a book club for Year Seven students and their mothers and we often read a Belinda Murrell novel as they are always enjoyed by pre-teens and adults alike. My 80 something nan also enjoys a Belinda Murrell novel and has just finished ‘The Forgotten Pearl’, and is now reading Belinda’s latest book ‘The River Charm’. Belinda’s books certainly appeal to all ages – they are indeed great ‘crossover’ novels.
Belinda will be a guest at this year’s StoryArts Festival Ipswich (SAFI). If you or your students are seeing Belinda at SAFI, this post is perfect for some pre reading before you attend the SAFI; knowing a little about the presenter beforehand makes the experience so much more worthwhile! You can also find out more about Belinda at her website here. The StoryArts Festival Ipswich offers FREE sessions for children and low cost sessions for adults and young adults with an interest in children’s literature such as teachers, librarians, and emerging writers and illustrators. More information about the SAFI festival is at the end of this ‘Book People’ post.
Ten Things You Need to Know About Belinda Murrell
1. Tell us about your latest book.
‘The River Charm’ is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of our great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
When I was about eight, I started writing poems, plays, stories and novels in hand illustrated exercise books just because it was fun!! I kept writing all through school and university, then when I left uni I worked as a technical writer, journalist and freelance travel writer, but all the time I had a dream to write books. When my own children were young I started writing books for them, and then one day was brave enough to send a manuscript off to Random House – the first book in ‘The Sun Sword Trilogy’. They loved it and I’ve been writing kids books full-time ever since. I’m now working on my eighteenth book!
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to write every day, unless I am out visiting schools and festivals. I usually get my kids off to school early in the morning, then I walk my dog Asha along the beach to get lots of fresh air and exercise, which helps get my brain working well. Back at my desk I make a coffee, read over what I have written the day before, check my notebook or plan to see where I’m going, then start writing. I write most of the day, until my kids get home from school at about 4.30pm., then I stop work and focus on the family – homework, sport, ballet, cooking and housework. The only time it gets tricky is when I am getting close to a deadline and then I become totally obsessed with the book. At that point dinners get burned and no-one has any clean washing!
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Asha keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. It is a gorgeous place to work.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
Here are my top writing tips for aspiring authors:
The important thing is to write lots! Get an exercise book and keep a journal writing down ideas, observations, poems and stories. Writing is like anything – you need to practice lots to get better! Write lots of stories and publish them on the computer – they make nice presents for parents, friends, grandparents.
Don’t forget to read lots too because most good writers read lots and lots of books.
Have fun and write what you love. I mean write stories which are just like the stories you love to read!!
Lastly don’t forget to edit your work. Most writers don’t write fantastic first drafts. That comes from polishing and rewriting your work.
6. Do you have a favourite book or character?
This year is a huge year for me as I have five new books being released. As well as my new time slip book, The River Charm, I have four books in my new ‘Lulu Bell’ series – written for younger kids (6 to 9) years old.
I just adore my new character Lulu Bell. She is an eight year old girl, growing up in a vet hospital just like I did as a child. She is the eldest child, so she is creative but practical, sometimes a little bossy, but usually warm and caring and great at solving problems.
The first two books ‘Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn’ and ‘Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin’ have just been released. ‘Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort’ and ‘Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon’ will be released in August. I am now editing the next two books in the series to come out in January 2014, – ‘Lulu Bell and the Circus Cub’ and ‘Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle’. The series, which is illustrated by the very talented Serena Geddes, is about family, friends and animal adventures.
I have just been away on tour for the launch and we have had such an overwhelming response to the series from kids, teachers, librarians and booksellers so it is all very exciting! In fact both books have just hit Random House’s top five bestseller list!!!
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
When I was young I wanted to be a vet like my dad, so I could have lots of animals to heal and look after. The only problem was I was really good at English but completely hopeless at maths and chemistry so I became a writer instead – and what a good move that was!
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I don’t usually listen to music while I write as I find it distracting. But while I’m editing I might listen to a mixed bag including Angus and Julia Stone, Jack Johnson, Adele or whatever comes up on my shuffle. Sometimes I do listen to period music to get me in the mood for the historical period I am writing in. For example, when I was writing ‘The Forgotten Pearl’, I played lots of 1940s music.
As for food, that depends on how close I get to deadline!! When that deadline is looming and I’m working late at night, chocolate always helps!!!
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
I often base my characters on real people, but usually I mix them up. For example in my new ‘Lulu Bell’ series – Lulu is partly based on me, because when I was eight years old I lived in a vet hospital. Like me, Lulu is creative but practical, caring and warm, but sometimes bossy. She is also a bit like my daughter Emily, a bit of a tom boy and very artistic. Likewise the little brother Gus is cheeky, mischievous and adorable, so he is a mixture of my son Lachie, my nephew Gus and my brother when he was young.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
I wish that all children in the world had a loving family, good food, clean water and a great education.
The 2013 StoryArts Festival Ipswich (SAFI) will be launched on Saturday 7 September and continues until the 17th September with sessions for children, young adults and adults. This is the tenth biennial SAFI festival. You can find out more about presenters and booking here.
10th September – Jackie French talks permaculture and chooks at Ipswich Central @ 5.30pm.
13th September – Illustrators Conference for art teachers, teacher librarians and interested individuals. Ipswich Civic Centre and nearby venues. Keynote speakers include Australian Children’s Laureate Alison Lester and picture book specialist Margaret Hamilton AM. Panel and workshops on illustration in children’s books with a range of illustrators. View the three exhibitions of illustration.
Free family event! An Evening with Andy Griffiths. More information here.
Creating Picture Books – everything you need to know about writing, illustrating and publishing your picture book. A one day course with award winning illustrator Dee Huxley and children’s book publisher Margaret Hamilton AM. Booking form here.
Book a professional appointment with an editor – haven’t been able to get your manuscript to a publisher? Here is a chance to have your manuscript appraised by children’s book publishers Helen Chamberlin (Windy Hollow Books) and Sue Whiting (Walker books). Booking form here.
14-15 September – Young adult and adult program at Woodlands of Marburg – Talks, panels, writing and illustrating workshops, manuscript appraisals, Creating a picture book one day course with Margaret Hamilton and Dee Huxley
Exhibitions held in conjunction with the festival this year are:
Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing at Ipswich Art Gallery 24 August – 21 October
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: A Quilt Project by Karen Walden and accompanying children’s exhibition Ipswich Community Gallery 7 September – 4 October.
Sarah Davis’ Sounds Spooky at the Ipswich Library 1 September – 12 October
You can purchase Belinda Murrell’s book to read before you attend the festival by clicking on the covers below. Bring your books to SAFI and have them signed. You can also purchase her books at SAFI, where ‘The Book Garden’ is the official bookseller.