Monday, 24 January 2011

Author Interview - Wendy Orr

Photo by Roger Gould

Wendy Orr's junior novel Nim’s Island has been published in 24 countries around the world. In 2008 it became a Hollywood feature film starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin and Gerard Butler. Her latest release is the picture book The Princess and her Panther. Raven’s Mountain, an adventure novel for middle grade readers, will be published by Allen & Unwin in February.

What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?

The love of stories, books and being read to goes back earlier than I can remember; the passion for reading books for myself – and perhaps the start of wanting to write them – wasn’t till I was nearly 7. We lived in France, so I’d learned to read and write with rather boring French readers. However one night before we moved back to Canada, my parents left three ‘Dick and Jane’ readers on my bedside table for me to find. I’ve never forgotten the thrill of reading real stories in my own language!

When did you first realise you were a writer?

When I sat at the coffee table and began writing, “Glossy the Horse or Shetland Pony,” when I was seven. However I didn’t believe I was an author till “Leaving it to You” was shortlisted, many years later!

What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

I’m never sure about this question… I’d like them to take away a feeling of their lives being enriched in some way; depending on the genre, I think that means of having lived in someone else’s shoes or been captivated by the fun of word play and story.

Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure?

No; when I find a good book I am quickly immersed in it – but I can’t read something that I feel is sloppily written.

Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?

I suppose my answer above means it does, but if the book’s good I am simply swept along with it and enjoy the fact that someone has written so well. If I don’t enjoy a book that has had rave reviews I do often spend a long time pondering why I can’t agree, and where I think it’s gone wrong.

Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own?

Not any more; I used to be more easily swayed when I was still finding my own voice. However when I’m starting a new book I often can’t read any fiction for a week or two.
Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way? I don’t think it affects what I’m writing at that moment, but every book one loves and gets involved with must bleed into the subconscious to some extent.

Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?
Mary Renault; Rosemary Sutcliff; Rumer Godden; The Queen’s Music; Mary Poppins

If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?

Possession by AS Byatt – because it’s very long, has three different story strands, and requires deep reading. Also I love it!

What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?

Involvement with the characters, and truly caring what happens to them.

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

Sloppy writing; repetition that should have been edited out, or stereotypical characters that I don’t care about.

Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?

Probably AS Byatt, because of the depth of her stories and the beauty of her writing. However you can’t please all the people all the time: I felt that The Children’s Book had so many side stories and lectures that she could have edited it down by a third.

What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
It’s between Cassandra Gold’s Museum of Mary Child, which was beautiful, engrossing, and highly original, and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (which is quite old but I hadn’t read till now) – I was totally engrossed by the characters, story, and writing, and felt that it prepared me for a visit to India far better than any non fiction every could have.

What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?

I think there’s a future for print books, but maybe more in the way that there are still beautiful hardcovers around – maybe it will be just the books that we really care about and want to keep physically. My sample of one is my daughter, in her 20’s, who’s found she’s reading a lot more since she’s had an iPad, partly because she travels a great deal and so can take several books with her for any flight. As well as reading her way through the classics, if she sees a review of a book that sounds interesting, she purchases and downloads it immediately. (Whereas I’ve often forgotten the review by the next time I go to town and into a physical bookshop!)

Wendy started writing seriously in 1986, with her picture book Amanda's Dinosaur. In 1993 Leaving it to You was shortlisted for the CBCA awards, junior readers; Ark in the Park won the same award in 1995. Peeling the Onion, based on a serious car accident Wendy had in 1991, was widely published internationally, with awards including the CBCA Honour Book, older readers, in 1997, and an American Library Association Book for older readers. LOST: A Dog Called Bear, the first of the Rainbow Street Animal Shelter series, will be released by Henry Holt in the North American spring 2011. Find out more at http://www.wendyorr.com/

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