The 12 most commonly asked questions about my writing.

Where do you write?

Usually at home in my study, but if I'm on 'holidays', wherever I am… can't seem to stop the bug.

Do you write on a computer?

Yes, when I'm not out bush writing in an exercise book… or underwater.
Lately I've begun writing longhand first, then transcribing it to computer. I find the transcribing gives a cleaner start to my ideas. I only write on one side of the book and leave the other page blank for additional ideas, bits of conversation, descriptions or facts I need to flag for checking.

Where do you get your ideas?

From places I visit, people I meet, from my memories and imagination. From things I see and read about. Ideas for stories are all around you. They lie in your friends, in people you like or mistrust, in incidents you observe or have experienced, in love, pain, humour and trauma. They spring into you brain in the middle of the night - so keep a notebook beside you bed! They arrive under the shower - (more difficult for the notebook), from the paper, from TV. It might be a whole incident - it might be a single fleeting thought or image. Often a big book starts with a small idea, as happened with Carrie's Song, Rock Dancer and Find me a River.(see Books)

Do you ever use other people's ideas?

I'd never take someone else's idea or story; that would be very unethical and a dumb thing to do, but I'm always writing notes on bits of conversation, mannerisms or things people tell me. For instance, I've just been told that the wood of a tree struck by lightning is no good for firewood. I think that's really interesting so I'll have to check that out and get it into a book somehow. And that story of the 'wogs' and the 'anglos' on page 147 of "Find me a River" was a straight steal from a friend's experience at that school.

Do you use people you know as characters?

Bits of them. A direct take or copy would be far too confining for a work of fiction. Apart from one mischievous and now, very useful, son, my characters are blends of people and imagination. Writers could called 'thieves, brigands, and pirates'. Not because we steal other peoples writing, but because we steal their mannerisms, voices, appearances, character, language, oddities, stories, lives, failures, successes….. and so on and on, for as many stories, myths and legends as have ever been recorded or spoken.

Which comes first, the place or the plot or the character?

Good question! They can arrive all together with a bang, or dribble in, in bits. Usually a place and a character collide and they bring about a plot, that develops and then changes the character… and sometimes the place… which would change the plot… so the character would then change…etc!. They all feed on each other. It's a very evolving business this writing!

Do you always write about the environment and outdoors?

I guess I do. I'm not much of a city person, in fact I try to avoid them (especially if involves a trip to the dentist), but even in books that are city based, I usually manage to sneak in some country somehow.

Do you only write about things you know well?

Certainly not! Otherwise books would be endless boring autobiographies. Writers always have to do a lot of research about subjects that jump into stories. Don't be scared of researching - it's good fun and new ideas always bubble up the further you chase. I'd never hear of Leporillus Apicalis before last year…. Have you? ? Clue… Try ‘Gap in Nature’ by Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten, and then see how it ended up in ‘Carrie’s Song”.

How do you stay in touch with teenagers when you are… err… much older!

I visit schools and talk to school kids. I have young friends, except they will keep growing older, which is very annoying.
However, although at times this might seems outrageous, I think the similarities between generations are far greater than differences. The things which really matter to you, the core stuff of your life, the good, the bad, the ugly, difficult, boring, funny, touching, sad. The loves, jealousies, uncertainties, abandonments, fights, pain and happiness mattered to me at your age, and still do. Just the wrapping paper has changed.
I listen to teenagers whenever I get the chance, pick the changes in the language, so that it doesn't sound dated, and I mentor students which helps a lot. And, PS, I'm not "…err… much older!" I'm just plain older, and just as well or I wouldn't have nearly as much to write about.

Do you edit your writing a lot?

Constantly. Some days I don't write anything new because I get lost in editing and embroidering the work I've already written. I think this process is a really important part of good writing; it adds richness and cleans up the ideas you've put down quickly when your brain was flying.

Do you start at the beginning of a book and write to the end?

Only with shorter books like 'Dangerous Waters' and 'Nick Riley's Ninth Life', because they are mostly plot driven, fun, and comparatively quicker to write. With a complex book, I might be writing in chunks as new ideas come to me, or writing through a theme leaving out unrelated chapters. The beginning is usually buried chapters deep by the time I'm finished, and inevitably I chop thousands of words before I'm satisfied… relatively satisfied. I'm never really satisfied.

Finally what was the hardest book to write and which is your favourite?

Undoubtedly the hardest was 'Julia, my Sister', because it's very complex and because I wrote it in a number of sections which had to be smoothly integrated.
The favourite? I don't know. They're different, for different ages, and can't be compared. All or none; you choose.