Q & A with Belinda Murrell

Get to know Belinda Murrell, author of 21 books including The Sun Sword Trilogy, The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Forgotten Pearl, The Ivory Rose, The River Charm, and the new Lulu Bell series.

1. What has been the highlight of the last year for you?

Last year was such a wonderful year for me with lots of highlights. One of the most exciting things was firstly to be shortlisted for the KOALA awards for the third time, and then even more exciting was to go to the award ceremony and discover that my book The Forgotten Pearl was an Honour Book in the Fiction for Older Readers. I was so surprised that I actually screamed out loud, which made everyone laugh!! I love the KOALA awards because they are nominated and voted for by children. It is such a thrill for me that kids love reading my books. I also had five lovely new books that came out last year (my busiest year yet) including my new book for Older readers – The River Charm, plus a new series for younger readers called Lulu Bell.

2. Tell us about your latest book for older readers?

The River Charm is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

3. And Lulu Bell?

I have had so much fun working with very talented illustrator Serena Geddes on the series. Lulu Bell is an eight year old girl, growing up in a vet hospital just like I did as a child. She is the eldest child, so she is creative but practical, sometimes a little bossy, but usually warm and caring and great at solving problems.

The first four books were released last year - Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn,Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin,Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort and Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon. The series is about family, friends and animal adventures.

I have had such an overwhelming response to the series from kids, teachers, librarians and booksellers so it is all very exciting!

4. How did you get started as a writer?

When I was about eight, I started writing poems, plays, stories and novels in hand illustrated exercise books just because it was fun!! I kept writing all through school and university, then when I left uni I worked as a technical writer, journalist and freelance travel writer, but all the time I had a dream to write books. When my own children were young I started writing books for them, and then one day was brave enough to send a manuscript off to Random House – the first book in The Sun Sword Trilogy. They loved it and I’ve been writing kids books full-time ever since. I’m now working on my twenty-first book!

5. What is a typical day for you?

I try to write every day, unless I am out visiting schools and festivals. I usually get my kids off to school early in the morning, then I walk my dog Asha along the beach to get lots of fresh air and exercise, which helps get my brain working well. Back at my desk I make a coffee, read over what I have written the day before, check my notebook or plan to see where I’m going, then start writing. I write most of the day, until my kids get home from school at about 4.30pm., then I stop work and focus on the family – homework, sport, ballet, cooking and housework. The only time it gets tricky is when I am getting close to a deadline and then I become totally obsessed with the book. At that point dinners get burned and no-one has any clean washing!

6. Where do you write?

I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Asha keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. It is a gorgeous place to work.

7. What advice can you give to young readers and writers?

Here are my top writing tips for aspiring authors:

  • The important thing is to write lots! Get an exercise book and keep a journal writing down ideas, observations, poems and stories. Writing is like anything – you need to practice lots to get better! Write lots of stories and publish them on the computer – they make nice presents for parents, friends, grandparents.

  • Don’t forget to read lots too because most good writers read lots and lots of books.

  • Have fun and write what you love. I mean write stories which are just like the stories you love to read!!

  • Lastly don’t forget to edit your work. Most writers don’t write fantastic first drafts. That comes from polishing and rewriting your work.

8. What are you working on now?

This year is a huge year for me as I have six new books being released. Firstly I have my new time slip book for older readers, The Sequin Star coming out in May. This book was so much fun to research and write because it is set in a circus during the 1930s. Here is a sneak peek:

After her grandmother falls ill, Claire finds a sequin star in an old jewellery box. Why does Claire’s wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932.

Claire finds herself stranded in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a beautiful trick rider, Claire is allowed to stay – if she promises to work hard. The Great Depression has made life difficult for everyone, but Claire makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy called Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform.

When Kit is kidnapped, it’s up to Claire, Rosina and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth – can the two find happiness together?

As well as that I have five books in my new Lulu Bell series – written for younger kids (6 to 9) years old. Two new books have just been released - Lulu Bell and the Circus Cub and Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle. I’m now editing two to come out in June -  Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party and Lulu Bell and the Tiger Cub. And if that wasn’t enough I’m in the middle of writing book 9 in the series Lulu Bell and The Christmas Elf. No prizes for guessing when that one comes out! 

9. If you were not a children’s author what would you be?

When I was young I wanted to be a vet like my dad, so I could have lots of animals to heal and look after. The only problem was I was really good at English but completely hopeless at maths and chemistry so I became a writer instead – and what a good move that was!

10. What do you love about writing?

Immersing myself in a different place and time. Discovering the stories of my characters. Experiencing the almost magical evolution from the first spark of an idea, to the outline of a story, to a complete book.

I also love the feedback from my readers. One of my greatest joys is getting hundreds of emails and letters from kids, telling me how much they love my books.

11. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

I often base my characters on real people, but usually I mix them up. For example in my new Lulu Bell series – Lulu is partly based on me, because when I was eight years old I lived in a vet hospital. Like me, Lulu is creative but practical, caring and warm, but sometimes bossy. She is also a bit like my daughter Emily, a bit of a tom boy and very artistic. Likewise the little brother Gus is cheeky, mischievous and adorable, so he is a mixture of my son Lachie, my nephew Gus and my brother when he was young.

12. What are your favourite children's books set in Australia? 

There are so many fantastic Australian children’s books, so it is very hard to choose.

  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. One of my all time favourite books!

  • Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs. I loved this as a young child.

  • Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester. We travelled all around Australia for 18 months and took this book with us the whole way as an inspiration.

  • A Mother’s Offering to Her Children – the first children’s book published in Australia back in 1841, and written by my great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Waring Atkinson.*

  • The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. This was definitely one of my favourites as a child.

 * Find out more about this intriguing book on Kate Forsyth's blog - A Mother's Offering: Australia's first children's book (Kate is Belinda's sister sister. What a talented family!)

Belinda Murrell is an internationally published, bestselling children’s author. Her 21 books include The Sun Sword Trilogy, a fantasy-adventure series for boys and girls aged 8 to 12. Her time-slip books - The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Forgotten Pearl, and The Ivory Rose – have been shortlisted for various awards, including KOALAs (2013, 2012 and 2011), CBCA Notable List and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards. Her new book, The River Charm, is based on the thrilling adventures of her ancestors. For younger readers (aged 6 to 9) Belinda has a new Lulu Bell series, about friends, family, animals and adventures growing up in a vet hospital. www.belindamurrell.com.au