Book People: Anna Fienberg
If there is one book I consistently recommend as a read-aloud for Year Three – Six, it’s ‘Horrendo’s Curse’. It’s been over ten years now since I first read ‘Horrendo’s Curse’ but the story, and the messages of kindness and courage, have stayed with me. I am constantly shoving it into the hands of little library patrons from about eight years old and into the hands of teachers and parents. So I was slightly beside myself to hear that Anna Fienberg was writing a companion novel, ‘Wicked’s Way’. Fortunately, it is equally as beautiful and a fitting companion; I look forward to displaying them together in my library. Like Horrendo, ‘Wicked’s Way’ has the same kindness shining through each and every word – and our world could do with a lot more kindness sometimes could it not? Messages of kindness, compassion, empathy, understanding and courage are skilfully woven through a tale that is fast-paced and full of adventure on the high seas- ‘Wicked’s Way’ will be an instant hit with male and female readers 8-12 years (and their parents and teachers!). Though a companion to ‘Horrendo’s Curse’ it is also a stand alone novel, so no need to have read the first one, but do anyway! In fact, buy them both NOW and thank my later. PudStar has not stopped clutching ‘Wicked’s Way’ since she finished it – she read it late into the night and was, I suspect, a little scared and a little awed by it.
I am beyond honoured to have the delightful Anna on the blog today, answering my ‘Ten Things’ questions. I got all goosebumpy reading her advice for young readers and writers, and I agree with you Anna, Kim Gamble was indeed the epitome of kindness (with a side does of wickedness!) and will be greatly missed.
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Tell us about your latest book
What makes a pirate? ‘Wicked’s Way’ is a pirate adventure about a boy who did everything to avoid becoming one. Young Will began life as a tightrope walker – each morning he practised walking the rope his mother had slung for him between the trees. So why did he become a scoundrel of the sea instead of a star of the circus?
In my first book about the high seas, ‘Horrendo’s Curse’, pirates came to the islands each year to steal young boys for their crew. After I finished the story, this cruel and pitiless world went on nagging at my imagination, and I fell to wondering how a boy – even with remarkable highwire skills like Will – could possibly escape his fate when his mother disappears and pirates arrive at his door…
How did you get started as a writer?
I began reading. It’s been my favourite thing since I was eight. So when I was chosen to be an editorial assistant at School Magazine – a fabulous literary magazine published in NSW for children, where I had to read over a thousand books a year – I knew I had found my dream job. Not only did I have to read, I had to write too: articles, plays, stories…And one of my stories for the magazine, ‘Billy Bear and Wild Winter’, became my first book, published by Angus & Robertson. After that, I thought, well, maybe I could be a writer, and so I wrote another story, and another…loving the escape from real life that stories offered. What does a typical day look like for you?
I keep a notebook on the table next to my bed, so in the morning when I wake up, I often write a sentence or two, or even just a word, to remember what I’ve dreamt. Dreams, and that early waking period, are a great source of ideas for stories. But I can’t linger too long because my dog, who isn’t at all interested in my dreams or even his, wants to go to the park. Afterwards, I take my coffee to my desk and try to start work. This involves a lot of humming and scratching my dog’s ears, which he doesn’t mind at all. I read over what I wrote yesterday, and then try to start dreaming again – this time with my eyes open.
Can you describe your workspace for us?
I write in my bedroom, at the desk near the window, where I spend a lot of time staring out. There’s not a lot to see – just the rather bedraggled mulberry tree and grass that needs mowing, but often a magpie will come and then a kookaburra and a show will begin…My room has never really been quite big enough for all the notebooks and papers and books and candles (lit for inspiration) and photos and my son’s drawings and Kim Gamble’s paintings (aren’t I lucky?). Although it’s crowded (and messy) it feels like a rich safe place, a good home for writing.
Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
All I can say is: read everything you can get your hands on, read all the time. Read what you love and sometimes, even what you don’t think you’ll love. Experiment. Be bold. You’ll learn so much about life, about writing, about yourself. Books are a great source of happiness – and while you’re happy reading, you’re not even aware you’re becoming wiser and wordier with every page! After you’ve read a book, you’re never quite the same again because you’ve been living in someone else’s head, and your own will be a little different as a consequence.
If you want to write, write all the time, too. Keep a notebook with you, be an eavesdropper – on others and yourself. Fall in love with words – keep a list of your current favourites. And write down your ideas as soon as they come – ideas are gifts that need to be unwrapped and played with straight away…
Do you have a favourite character?
As a child I loved Flat Stanley in the book by Jeff Brown. (I still love him!) Poor Stanley Lambchop had a wardrobe drop right on him and he became so totally flat that he could slide under doors…What I loved about Stanley was that even after his transformation, he just kept on making the best of things, of being alive and flat but still Stanley. What a hero!
If you were not a creator of books what would you be?
I often dreamed of being an actor, but I was always too shy. But what fun to walk around and behave as if you were someone else…maybe writing about a character is the closest thing to acting out a character?
I also wanted to be a go-go dancer (as we used to call them) in a gold glittery skirt and too much make-up. I get to do that in my living room when only my dog is at home.
What is your favourite food/music while working on books?
I can’t listen to music when I’m writing, as I have to hear the music in the words. If you go very still and concentrate, you can hear the rhythm in a pattern of words, and sometimes it feels just right. They’re the ones to hang onto. But I have to confess that I love to drink coffee as I write, and eat walnuts and raisins. SO good…
How much of yourself or people you know are in your books?
Because I only write what I care about, there must be a bit of me in everything I write. And because I can’t help watching the people I care about, there’s a bit of them in there too. For example, one day Kim Gamble, the brilliant illustrator of the ‘Tashi’ books, was telling me about the time he was walking home from school with his best friend George. Kim asked George if there was anything he didn’t like about him. “Oh what a dumb question,” said George. “You’re my friend! But okay, if I have to say one thing, I’ll say you’re too polite!”
I laughed, but when I thought about it, I could see it…Kim had the kindest, most gentle heart and was (almost always) polite.
After that conversation, I went home and thought about a character who was always kind, and always polite, even in the most angry-making situations and even when he didn’t want to be… and that character became Horrendo.
If you had one wish for the world what would it be?