Book People: Davina Bell
I deliberately didn’t read this interview from Davina until I had written the review for her new book, ‘The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ as I didn’t want it influence me and I never, ever read reviews of books before I write them. However I DO rather love her description of the colours Allison Colpoys used; cobalt, peach and dusty blue. You can read my review here. Davina is someone I would rather love to meet, I follow her on Instagram and having read all of her books I feel I know a little about her; after this interview I know a little bit more and I desperately want to move into a spare room at her house. Sigh.
Ten Things You Need to Know About Davina Bell
1. Tell us about your latest book.
‘The Underwater Fancy-dress Parade’ is a picture book about shyness and introversion, bad dreams and loving parents, a day out, a giant octopus in a tiny hat and a big realisation. It’s illustrated by the ridiculously talented Allison Colpoys in the most exquisite limited palette of dusty blue, cobalt and peach, and she’s made it a more beautiful story than I could ever have imagined.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
When I was starting out, I wrote a couple of short stories for adults that were picked up by Best Australian Stories. And then I was a children’s book editor at Penguin, and I had a wonderfully encouraging boss who asked me to write for the Our Australian Girl series, which is how I came to publish my first books. See my review of ‘Our Australian Girls’ here.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
How I wish there was such a thing. In the summer, I start with a quick swim at the beach, just because I’ve moved to the country from the city, and it feels so incredible that I can just nip off and do that. Then it’s a mash-up of lots of emails, phone calls with publishers, life admin tasks, planning, reading over my work, and then hopefully a couple of blocks of a couple of hours each of solid writing time – maybe more, maybe less.
There’s usually a good few moments of panic about whether my writing is any good. I walk down to the winery at the bottom of the hill to get coffee each day, and I make sure I go outside to look at the bright country stars at night, which helps to put things in perspective. Some days when I’ve had too much time at home, I take my laptop to the local café and write there with a raw lemon cheesecake.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
A tiny white table with a plant hanging above it and my iMac perched on top. A blank wall in front. A window beside me that looks out on a vineyard at just the right angle so the sunset comes in. An old standing lamp. A bunch of roses from my garden.
But if it’s sunny and not too scorching, I’m at the outside table, looking at the vines.
Everything you read will shape the person you become. Though maybe you don’t realise it now, the emotions and adventures you experience through fiction will be stay you and form you as an adult, and will be the biggest influence on your writing style. So read read read! As much as you can, every day. You have the chance to curate the most beautiful garden of a mind by feeding it literature. Books will expand your ability to see the world from another’s point of view, and that’s what the world needs – people with empathy and compassion.
6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
‘Corduroy’! That brave, heart-squeezing little bear who goes on a big adventure after dark in a department store. I spent so many hours of my childhood with that guy and his green overalls with the lost button.
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
I’d love to grow flowers and be a florist – something far away from a desk but still based in creativity and colour. Out in nature and the seasons is where I’d like to be.
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
If in doubt, eat a carrot – that’s my motto, and it definitely applies when I’m writing.
At the moment I am listening to the most bizarre playlist while I try to desperately to finish my novel for a deadline. My computer has picked it from a selection of five albums that people have given me. They are the Cranberries (80s Irish pop), Foals (sort of smashy electronic), Justin Townes Earle (rock-star country), Mountain Man (girly, whimsical folk) and a mix of the Notorious B.I.G’s rap playing over the top of the XX (can’t even!). This strange and wonderful combination is really fuelling the manic energy I need to get my book done.
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
I realise now that I was lucky to have had the experience of deeply offending someone by writing them into my first piece of published fiction. Since then I have been too petrified to put anyone I know into my work! But I think that’s made me have to stretch myself more, and that’s never a bad thing.
As for how much of myself is in my books, I think that every character probably has some aspect of me in them at a deeper level, but superficially there’s not yet one that is recognisably or even loosely based on me or a younger me.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
I think the gift to live free from fear – be that fear of hunger and disease, poverty and the future, fear of bullies, fear of rejection, fear of tomorrow or of being unloved, fear of sports carnivals, piano exams, performance reviews or of making a mistake, fear of our own bodies or for the planet, fear of failure, fear of ourselves.