Book People: Pamela Rushby

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I am so pleased to be featuring Pamela Rushby as part of my ‘Book People’ series. Pamela and I clearly attend the same literary events as I see her at 90% of the functions I attend and it’s always lovely to chat with her. There are a few children’s/YA authors in Australia who do historical fiction incredibly well and Pamela is one of them. Her ability to delve into the past, conduct extensive research and then create a story which will engage youth of today is remarkable. Her books are studied in schools around the country and are often popular choices for my ‘Girl Zone Book Club’ and our school bookclub for senior students and parents. I have reviewed ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’ here and ‘Flora’s War’ here. You can purchase her books by clicking on the cover or title images in this post and you can read more about Pamela at her website here.

Thank you so much for joining me here today Pamela!


Ten Things You Need to Know About Pamela Rushby

1. Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book (released today!) is “The Ratcatcher’s Daughter” (review here). It’s about the plague, the Black Death, that came to Australia in 1900. Thirteen-year-old Isabel McKelvie (Issy) has just left school and started her first job – very reluctantly – as a maid in an Undertaking Establishment. Where her employers not only arrange funerals, but take studio photographs of the dead (memento moris) and make mourning jewellery out of their hair … Issy thinks this is about as low as you can go. But there’s worse to come, as the plague arrives in Australia. Issy’s family is forced into quarantine. They’re finally released, and Issy’s father begins to make extra money by going rat-catching with his pack of yappy, snappy, hyperactive terriers. Issy loathes both rats and her father’s dogs, but when her father becomes ill it’s up to Issy to join the battle to rid the city of the plague-carrying rats. However, many things about the city’s control of the plague are not as they seem. Issy sets out to solve a mystery.  the-ratcatcher-s-daughter

2. How did you get started as an author?

I’ve always written. I made my own little books when I was in primary school (by sewing pieces of paper together). They were heavily influenced by Enid Blyton. My first job was as an advertising copywriter in a department store. I majored in journalism at uni. Finally, I became a teacher and then landed my dream job – producer in the Education Dept’s film unit, where I wrote and produced film scripts. I had some scripts produced in the Australian Children’s Television Foundation’s “Lift Off” series, and one day I had a phonecall to say that they were going to produce some picture books from the scripts, and was I interested at all in writing one, or would they get someone else? I tried to be really cool and say “Oh well, I could probably fit it in”, but seriously I would have killed to write that book, because although I’d had scripts produced, I’d never had a book published, and I knew what was Really Important. (The book was “Dancing Pants”.)

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

Lie in bed and listen to the radio for as long as I can get away with it. Work in the morning, emails first, then eventually I force myself off Facebook and get onto whatever has the closest deadline. I like to swim in the middle of the day in summer, in winter I tell myself I should go walking and get some exercise, but I don’t. (Walking bores me.) Afternoon is usually research time, correcting proofs, whatever – not creative work, I’m not a pm person. Read or TV at night, I like Time Team, history docos, things like that. And Dr Who!! (or I did until the last series, it all got too silly).

4. Can you describe your workspace for us?

I have a room with 4 filing cabinets (and counting), a big desk covered with stuff, bulletin board covered with stuff, computer, paper everywhere. A bookcase for the books I’m currently using for reference. A very large and comfortable chair. A calendar so I don’t forget when I’m going to schools and festivals. More pens than I’ll ever use. Some odd things like a (genuine) mummified rat, a Victorian mourning brooch with a Real Dead Person’s hair inside it, an ancient Egyptian shabti, a little model of a Light Horseman and his horse loaded with all the things the horse had to carry, a giant hotdog made of foam rubber and a stuffed red stocking – you know, just what everyone has on their desk …

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

Read. Read. Read. And read some more. Then, when you want to write, you’ll know how it’s done.

6. Do you have a favourite book or character?

I love Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”. And Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle”. My own favourite character is always the one I’m writing about right now. So poor Issy is being replaced by Hilary, who leaves home to join the Women’s Land Army in World War 2 and ends up helping to win the war by picking pineapples.

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

I’d be a producer of educational television, as I used 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?

I try to resist, but I have a jar of lollies on the desk. Peppermint. I don’t listen to music when I write, unless it’s part of the story. When I was writing “When the Hipchicks Went to War” I listened to 60s music. But that was research! 

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

I think you always draw on people you know, or have observed. I don’t think I’ve ever used a character so that he/she would recognise themselves.

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

Treat everyone as you would like them to treat you. We couldn’t go wrong if everyone could do that.


‘When the Hipchicks Went to War’ (Hachette 2009) Notable Book CBCA Awards 2010, Winner Ethel Turner Prize NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2010. the-horses-didn-t-come-home

‘The Horses Didn’t Come Home’ (HarperCollins 2012) Short-listed Queensland Literary Awards 2012. Notable Book CBCA awards 2013. flora-s-war

‘Flora’s War’ (Ford St Publishing 2013). Read our full review here. the-ratcatcher-s-daughter

‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’ (HarperCollins April 2014)


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