Posted in authors, interviews

Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Just Write

MEET THE AUTHOR

Teena Raffa-Mulligan writes poetry, short stories, picture books and novels. She has also worked as a journalist and editor. Today we’re pleased to welcome her to Alphabet Soup to chat about about her latest book, Just Write – an easy guide to writing stories.

From the publisher:

Just Write can help to kick-start the process for kids who are stuck at the start. Find out how to come up with ideas, create interesting characters, paint word pictures and more in this easy-to-follow guide full of activities and helpful examples.


How did you come to write Just Write?

I never had any trouble writing stories when I was a kid. My pen flew over the page and I could barely keep up with the ideas spilling out of my imagination. I had a head full of stories and would even run home from the park to write them down. When my children were in primary school, I became a parent helper in the classroom and realised there were lots of kids who struggled with story writing.

Around the same time, my first picture book was published and I did some school visits. The idea of putting together a book for children about writing took shape as I had more books released and continued to share my love of stories in talks and workshops. The first version, which was called What Comes Next? Story Writing Made Easy for Children, was accepted for publication but that never happened so the manuscript stayed in my filing cabinet for years.

Last year I had extra time at home because of the COVID lockdowns and restrictions but I didn’t feel like writing anything new. I did need a project to work on so I decided to take another look at some of my unpublished manuscripts. You Can Be a Writer came out in January and is a picture book for early primary children that is based on a talk I give in schools. Just Write is the next level up, so it’s for mid to upper primary age.

I hope the books will encourage children to see story writing as a fun activity. There’s a blank page waiting for our imagination to take us on an exciting adventure and we don’t know where it will lead until we start out.

What’s the WORST writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Be disciplined, write for set hours every day, work on one story from start to finish, and stick to one genre so readers know what to expect.

This may be excellent advice for another writer – I’ve learned it isn’t a fit for me, so I don’t have a set routine. I’m always working on a range of different stories and I don’t work from start to finish. A lot of the time my stories come together like jigsaw puzzles.

You write poetry, picture books, children’s novels, novels for teens and novels for adults. Which do you find easiest to write?

Anything short that I can write quickly and move on to the next bright, shiny new idea! It takes a lot of focus to write a novel and I am easily distracted so sometimes it will be months between writing one chapter and the next. I used to get really cranky with myself for not being more disciplined and concentrating on one story at a time. I’ve now realised this stop and start approach to novels works really well for me because when I return to the story after a break it will head in unexpected directions.

You love reading as well as writing! Can you recommend a book you’ve enjoyed recently?

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson kept me so engrossed in the story I read it in two sittings. I had to stop for lunch! It is all about friendship and breaking the rules and Julia captures Maddie’s voice brilliantly. Another story I loved recently was Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay, set in 1979 when the world was waiting for pieces of Skylab to fall back to Earth. Meg is one of my favourite authors and everything she writes is exceptional, from the language she uses to her vividly drawn characters and understanding of human nature.  

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 

I’m working on a novel about a kid who finds a mysterious object at the local quarry the night after his next-door neighbour claims to have been chased by a flying saucer. That night Callum notices his toes have turned red and as the days pass the bright stain creeps steadily up his body. He can’t let Mum know or she won’t let him go to his first ever school camp. Lara from up the street has a secret too, and when the aliens turn up in search of the missing bits of their spaceship, the two kids have to decide what to do. It’s the sort of story I like writing because I let my imagination run free and until I write each scene, I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Just Write is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read our 2019 interview with the author

Visit Teena Raffa-Mulligan’s website for more about her and her books

Just Write by Teena Raffa-Mulligan
Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

REVIEWED BY ELIZABETH, 8, NSW

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo by Kylie Howarth

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo by Kylie Howarth, Walker Books Australia, ISBN 9781760652548

Elizabeth received a review copy of this book.

‘Go, Hermie! go’ I whispered.

‘No, mine is going to win,’ said my best friend Emely.

This is Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo and it is about Bodhi and Emely. They are on a vacation in the Maldives and they find a turtle that is sick because it can’t swim underwater or dive.

Bodhi (Fish Kid) cannot carry Emely and the turtle back to their island to show Bodhi’s dad who could help. So Bodhi just takes the turtle and leaves Emely behind at the beach island. 

Is the turtle going to survive? Will Emely get home?

I love this book! That is why I give this book 10/10! I love when they help the turtle.  I like that the author introduced real animals in Fish Kid Fact pages such as the spinner dolphins and black tip reef sharks.

Read an interview with the author-illustrator of the Fish Kid series.


Elizabeth is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read more of her reviews here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews

Book review: Eddie Woo, Superstar Maths Teacher

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA, 12, NSW

Eddie Woo Superstar Maths Teacher story told by Rebecca Lim

Eddie Woo: Superstar Maths Teacher by Rebecca Lim, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893403

Wild Dingo Press provided a review copy of this book.

Eddie Woo, the award winning mathematics teacher, has an intriguing past with lots of surprises. 

But was he always a superstar mathematician when he was young?

‘Catch you later,’ one of the boys hissed over his shoulder at where Eddie lay face down on the ground.

‘Drop you later, you mean!’ another one hooted over Eddie’s head.

Eddie Woo was one of the few Asian kids in his primary school. He was bullied for his short stature. Being known for studying didn’t help either. He had a lot of allergies and eczema which caused him to itch, only to be seen as a distraction in class by his teachers, who sent him to the principal’s office. He felt like no-one cared about him and he was neglected at school. He knew he was left out and overlooked, especially by his teachers. However, he always got high marks in English and History. 

What happened to Eddie that changed him from a victim of bullying to becoming a superstar mathematics teacher? Find out in Rebecca Lim’s captivating biography of Eddie Woo’s life. 

This is one of the most engaging biographies I’ve read because it is filled with surprises. Eddie shows his achievements and also his times of trouble. Throughout the book, you learn about Eddie’s emotions, feelings, thoughts and faith in God. Not only that, Eddie shows a few mathematical diagrams in the back of his book that emphasises how mathematics is everywhere in nature.

I rate this book 5 out of 5.

Read our earlier interview with the author of this book, Rebecca Lim.


Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read his 2020 review of Worse Things here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: Run of my life

RUN OF MY LIFE by Analia, 10, USA

Photo courtesy Anthony Moore at pexels.com. Image shows a child in a blue shirt running through a forest

“Get ready, set, GO!”

The air horn blared, breaking the silence. We all ran off, leaving behind a cloud of dust. In, out, in, out, my breathing went. A steady beat of determination in my breath ran through me all the way down to my feet, pushing me on. We entered the woods, a place of peace but not now. Now, it was a place of competition where we knew if we stopped we would never make it to the finish line. Jumping through the branches and sliding down the rocks, I felt the forest in my blood. I was impossible to stop, weaving in and out of different paths, following the red flags standing out in the green and brown. It went by in a flash, quicker than I imagined, and suddenly I was climbing my last hill. Completing my last descent. It was going to happen. Half a track to go and I was there.

Footsteps thudding. People cheering. I ignore it all and focus on the sound of my breathing. My heart leaps inside my chest. The final stretch, my running over in one step. Exhausted, I wasn’t sure if it was even possible to cross the finish line. My coach, Mandy, had decided to pursue the race along with me, and we crossed the finish line victorious.

“Go, Analia!”

My family cheered me on as I swept past them, completing the cross country 5K I had worked so hard to complete. Smiling in the sunlight I glance around feeling the support of all the other runners who had finished before me. I couldn’t wait for my next 5K!


Analia is a frequent contributor to Alphabet Soup. You can read her earlier work here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Gisela Kaplan, bird and primate scientist

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 10, NSW

Gisela Kaplan Bird and primate scientist, story told by Emily Gale (book cover)

Gisela Kaplan, Bird and Primate Scientist by Emily Gale, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893465

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

How did Gisela Kaplan, a young German survivor of WWII become a world-leading expert in the behaviour of animals?

This book is a biography of Gisela Kaplan written by Emily Gale. Gisela Kaplan had a hard life in Germany after the Second World War. Then after she immigrated to Australia, the book shows how other people helped her along in her career as she played a role in primate and bird science. In addition, there are notes to help explain words you don’t understand.

When she arrives in Australia what jobs could she take? How did she learn a second language, and how does she support her daughter? Read Aussie STEM Stars Gisela Kaplan to find out more and all the answers to these questions!

I like this book and for me, it is five-star rated because it shows an emotional story of immigration. It also shows how much practice has to go into work till you can fulfil your dream, as you can see how she consistently worked away from home, in the work field.   

This book would be for ages ten and up to read by themselves although most children from the age of six to ten can read with someone to help the children understand. Go grab a copy of this amazing book either online or hard copy.

Read a sample chapter from this book

Read our interview with the author


Gabriel is a regular book reviewer at Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here.

Posted in authors, interviews

Denis Knight, Cristy Burne and Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows

MEET THE AUTHORS – DENIS KNIGHT & CRISTY BURNE

Denis Knight and Cristy Burne
Denis Knight & Cristy Burne

Science fiction and fantasy author Denis Knight is a computer programmer who grew up geeking out about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. He has also worked as a technical writer, a delivery boy, a tutor, and, for one glorious summer, a tour guide on Rottnest Island.

Cristy Burne has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, US, South Africa and beyond. She has performed in a science circus, worked as a garbage analyst, and was a reporter at CERN when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider. Her books include To The Lighthouse, Off The Track, Beneath the Trees, and a non-fiction book, Zeroes and Ones. In 2020, she told the story of the inventor of spray-on skin in Aussie STEM Stars: Fiona Wood.

Denis and Cristy decided to collaborate on a book and the result is a hilarious new series featuring the adventures of a girl named Wednesday Weeks. Today Alphabet Soup is super excited to have Denis and Cristy visiting to tell us about co-writing Book 1 in their series – Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows.

From the publisher:

Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows.


One book, two authors. What was it like trying to write a book using two brains?

DENIS: Writing a book with two brains! I love that. It’s actually a great way to describe it. Although sometimes it feels like we only have half a brain between us. Ouch! Cristy just kicked me under the table.

CRISTY: Only because you kicked me first! It was actually really exciting, writing with Denis, because I could never predict what he would write, and I was always literally laughing out loud to discover what Wednesday and Alfie had been up to while I was away.

DENIS: Right. It was a lot of fun. But it was challenging, too – in a good way. When you’re working on your own, you can let yourself get away with stuff. But when you’re writing with a partner, you can’t do that any more. You have to level up.

How did you come up with/agree on the name for your main character?

CRISTY: Denis came up with the concept of Wednesday Weeks, a reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice, and in that very first chapter, he invented many of our favourite characters and names: Wednesday Weeks, Alfie, Mrs Glock … and of course, Abraham Mordecai Weeks (otherwise known as Grandpa).

DENIS: That’s true. Although, Wednesday’s character started out as something quite different from where she ended up. Cristy doesn’t know this, but my first idea was for a space bounty hunter named Serenity Weeks.

CRISTY: A what? Pardon?

DENIS: Then she was going to be a paranormal investigator named Wednesday Weeks. Wednesday’s character and voice started to develop when I wrote some short scenes where she and Alfie were searching for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Then the reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice idea popped into my head, and that was kind of the final piece of the puzzle.

CRISTY: More like the first piece of the puzzle. From there, we started writing. At first, it was literally a game. Denis wrote Chapter 1, and after reading this chapter, I wrote Chapter 2, and then Denis wrote Chapter 3. And we just trusted the story to evolve.

DENIS: I think the lesson here is to give yourself the time and space to play with an idea and see what develops. Also, that space bounty hunters are awesome. What do you think of the name Serenity Jones?

CRISTY:

CRISTY:

CRISTY: … I hope you’re not asking me?

How did you know/agree when Book 1 was finished and ready to submit?

DENIS: We wrote our first super-quick, super-short draft of Book 1 in early 2018.  

CRISTY: That first draft was only around 25,000 words long, but it was enough for us to get to know Wednesday and her world, and to know we wanted to write more.

DENIS: We had the first ten pages critiqued by a publisher in June 2018, and she gave us some really good feedback.

CRISTY: Over the next year, we both worked on other projects, but we kept coming back to Wednesday.

DENIS: We rewrote the opening chapters based on the publisher’s feedback, and we fleshed out the middle section, adding in the Sword of Reckoning and the laundry kraken. In June 2019 we had the opening chapters critiqued again by a different publisher, and she loved it. So that’s when we knew it was ready to submit.

CRISTY: Later, as we worked with Hachette to progress the manuscript through the various editing stages, we had three different editors all offering their advice, and there were thousands of new notes on each fresh edit that we completed. Getting the story just right was a whole lot of work!

Do you have any ‘Must Do’ or ‘Must Not Do’ tips for young writers who might like to collaborate on a story?

CRISTY: Respect for the other author’s creative brain is really important. A big part of the game we play as we write each Wednesday Weeks book is to take up the reins from where the other author has left off, and to then drive the adventure where we think it needs to go.

DENIS: Be open to your partner’s ideas, and have fun.

CRISTY: Another Hot Tip is to trust. As you write, remember that you teamed up with this other creator for a reason, and although smooshing two brains into one story can be difficult, the results will be worth it.

DENIS: Also, don’t expect it to be brilliant right away. It won’t be! But if you keep working on it, you’ll get there.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re writing next?

CRISTY: We’ve just finished putting the finishing touches on Book 2 of the Wednesday Weeks series.

DENIS: It’s called Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny and it’s out in September 2021.

CRISTY: We love it because it has all our favourite characters, plus more page-time for Adaline, our punk faery-friend from the laundry.

DENIS: There’s also some advanced magic for Wednesday to tackle, a hippo-bugamus, a giant pinball machine of death, a visit to outer space and, of course, some snarky Bruce-jokes.

CRISTY: And don’t forget a whole lot of dirty-rotten evil-doing from Gorgomoth.

DENIS: Right. Oh, and also, Grandpa gets turned into a frog for a while.

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

See Denis Knight & Cristy Burne talking about the book [YouTube]

Take a sneak peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Visit Denis Knight’s website for more about him and his books

Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her and her books

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows
Posted in authors, interviews

Kate Gordon and The Ballad of Melodie Rose

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kate Gordon grew up in a very booky house, in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Now she’s the author of picture books, children’s novels, and novels for teenagers. We featured Kate at Alphabet Soup in 2020 with the publication of The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn. Today we’re pleased to have her back again to chat about the second book in this series about Direleafe Hall, The Ballad of Melodie Rose.

From the publisher:

When Melodie Rose is abandoned on the doorstep of Direleafe Hall, she realises she must be a ghost. Strangely, she is not sad. With the three other ghostly girls who haunt the school and a gloomy crow on her shoulder, Melodie has never felt more at peace. Finally, she has a place to call home. So when the Lady in White arrives with plans to flatten the beloved school, Melodie Rose must act fast to save all she holds dear. But what can one powerless ghost do?

On with the questions!


The Ballad of Melodie Rose is your second novel set at Direleafe Hall. Was it your original plan to write a series set in the same school? Or did you decide Direleafe Hall had more stories to tell after you wrote The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn?

It was always my intention to write it as a series. I wanted to explore Direleafe Hall almost as a character – how it was in the past, present and “future”. I wanted to show the hall ageing, growing old, falling apart and being pieced back together again. When I started Wonder Quinn, the hall was as much of a character in my mind as she was. I was travelling through the Midlands of Tasmania and looking at the old buildings there, in the middle of nowhere, and the line, Wonder Quinn sat on the roof of Direleafe Hall popped into my head. From there, the series came to me, almost fully formed. One book would be this dark-haired girl, Wonder. The next would be a girl with hair like flames (Melodie Rose). And the last would be a boy who was there in the past (The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow will be out in March 2022). I never imagined Wonder would be published. I’m so thrilled that UQP have decided to publish all three books.

The titles of both books reference singing in some form – do you like to sing?

I do but I’m terrible at it! This used to bother me, but it doesn’t now I have a kid. We sing together, loudly and joyfully and I don’t care any more what I sound like. Everyone should sing for the joy of it and not care what they sound like. People have been singing almost since people existed. It’s part of our souls. To deny yourself the right to express that because you can’t carry a tune seems really sad. Of course, I don’t inflict my voice on anyone else but my daughter.

You’ve mentioned before that The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn took five years to write. Was this second book faster to write? Do you find it easier to write when you can revisit the setting and some of the characters?

All of these books have taken years to write! I was tinkering with Melodie Rose and Jackdaw Hollow while I was writing Wonder! Of course, I had to revisit each of them and revise as I made changes to the other books. They feel a bit like living beasts, constantly transforming. None of them have been quick to write but all of them have come easily, if that makes sense? It’s never felt like a slog writing this world. I feel like it’s the story I’ve been wanting to write forever.

Can you tell us the title of a book you’ve read recently and enjoyed?

A picture book I adored was The Bad Bassinis by Clair Hume. It’s a bright, colourful, funny book that still seems to contain so much poignancy and the essence of parenthood and how having children changes us fundamentally. It makes me cry every time! A wonderful novel I’ve read recently was Paws by Kate Foster. This book is so chock full of heart and life-affirming joy, I wanted to hug it! But that would look a bit weird on the bus.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next? (Will there be more Direleafe Hall books?)

Yes! The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow will be out in March 2022. I don’t think I’ll ever properly leave that world. I’ve also written a spin-off novel to Direleafe Hall, set in a circus of ghosts. I don’t know if it will be published. It was one of those “just have to write it” things. I’m also working on two more books in the universe of Aster’s Good, Right Things, another middle grade I had out last year.

The Ballad of Melodie Rose is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read our earlier interview with Kate Gordon about Book 1 in this series.

Visit Kate Gordon’s website for more about her and her books

The Ballad of Melodie Rose by Kate Gordon

Posted in authors, interviews, poetry

Kristin Martin and To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme?

MEET THE POET

Kristin Martin writes poetry for adults and children. Her poetry has been published in poetry collections as well as in magazines in Australia, UK and Ireland.

Kristin lives in South Australia in a house near the sea with her husband, two children, three turtles, lots of goldfish, and a bearded dragon named Ash. Her latest children’s poetry collection is called To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? (illustrated by Joanne Knott).

From the publisher:

A stunning collection of  children’s poetry with a focus on the natural world. Poems truly are all around us, and in this collection Kristin Martin shares her love of nature and sense of fun on each and every page. Joanne Knott’s exquisite illustrations bring the animals and natural environment to magical life.

On with the questions!


When you’re putting together a poetry collection, how do you choose which poems to include and which poems to leave out?

When I was putting together my children’s poetry book, To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? (which is published by a small independent publisher called Glimmer Press) I decided to only include poems that have something to do with nature: animals, plants, the sea or clouds. As most of the poems I write are inspired by nature, this was easy. I wanted roughly half the book to be made of rhyming poems, and half of non-rhyming poems, so I picked out my favourite rhyming nature poems, then actually had to write some more poems to have enough poems that don’t rhyme. It is much easier to write poems that don’t rhyme.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write rhyming poetry?

My tip for writing rhyming poetry is to read lots of rhyming poetry, and work out what the poet has done. Look at the syllables, and where the beats are in the words (where the natural stress falls when you read it aloud). I also suggest you ask someone else to read your rhyming poem aloud to you – then you can hear if it sounds right, or if there are any ‘clunks’ in it.

Do you have a favourite poem for performing/reciting to an audience?

My favourite poem changes all the time, but my current favourite is this, as it is fun to read aloud and have children guess what it is about. It is actually a (mostly) true poem, based on our family pet, Ash.

There’s a Dragon in my Bedroom by Kristin Martin

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
with a long and scaly tail.
She has spikes around her collar
that are sharper than a nail.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
with four sets of razor claws.
She has rows of sharp incisors
set inside her fearsome jaws.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
who’s out tracking down her prey.
When she’s hungry and she’s hunting
then I stay out of her way.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
who adores her daily meal.
When she finds those jumping crickets
she just snaps them up with zeal.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
who’s the nicest one I’ve met.
She’s a baby bearded dragon
and she’s my beloved pet.

(from To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? Published by Glimmer Press, 2019)

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to try performing/reciting poetry themselves?

Before Covid, I used to help organise a poetry performance evening at the school I teach at called ‘Rap, Rhyme and Rhythm’. My tips for the students performing, and any other students who want to perform or recite poetry, are to make sure you understand the poem when you learn it, then recite it to put across the meaning, rather than focussing on the rhymes. If it’s funny, make sure the audience can hear the jokes and have time to laugh. If it’s sad, make sure the audience hears the sadness in your voice.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re currently working on?

I’ve just completed my next poetry collection, which has 75 rhyming poems in it. The illustrator, Joanne Knott, is working on the pictures – I can’t wait to see them. It should be out next year. I am currently working on several rhyming picture books. I am at the editing stage, which is my favourite part of writing.

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore, at your local library, or you can buy a copy from the publisher.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Learn how to write your own poems

Download Kristin Martin’s Teachers’ Notes for To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

Read some more poems by Kristin Martin on her website

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme by Kristin Martin and illustrated by Joanne Knott
Posted in authors, interviews

Michelle Kadarusman and Girl of the Southern Sea

Michelle Kadarusman (photo by Micah Ricardo Riedl)

Michelle Kadarusman writes novels for children and teenagers. Michelle grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and has also lived in Indonesia and in Canada. Her books have been translated into Spanish and Turkish. Today we’re chatting to Michelle about her recent children’s novel Girl of the Southern Sea.

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman

From the publisher:

Nia longs to attend high school so she can follow her dream and become a writer, but her family has barely enough money for food, let alone an education. Nia’s days are spent running their food cart and raising her younger brother. Following a miraculous escape from a bus accident, Nia is gifted with good-luck magic. Or at least that’s what everyone’s saying. Soon their family business is booming and there might even be enough money to return to school. Then a secret promise threatens everything she’s hoped for. 

On with the questions!



What brought you to write a novel set in a slum in Jakarta?

When I was twelve, and on a family holiday to Indonesia, we took a train ride from the capital, Jakarta, to my father’s hometown of Bandung in West Java. It was on this train journey that I saw extreme poverty for the first time. Along the train tracks were shanty towns and people living in conditions that seemed unimaginable. But still, the children in these shanty towns would jump and wave and smile joyfully to us as we sped by. This journey was a pivotal moment for me and the images stayed with me. I wanted to give a voice to children, like the ones I saw that day, who opened my world view all of those years ago.

Your writing helps readers to picture Nia’s world – you include the sights, smells and food of her everyday life. When you’re writing your novels do you have any tools you use to help you disappear into the world where your story is set?

I wrote this story in Toronto, Canada, during winter, so it couldn’t have been more different to the location! I relied on memories and photographs from my years of living in Indonesia. I also cooked some yummy Indonesian dishes to fill the house with the smells and tastes of the delicious food. I talked to my sisters and brother a lot about our times together in Indonesia as children – this helped a lot. Somehow childhood memories evoke the richest details.

Nia tells her younger brother stories she’s written based on a tale her mother told her when she was little. Was this a tale you heard yourself when you were growing up?

When we were young, my dad used to tell us not to wear green if we went swimming, he said it was the favourite colour of the Queen of the Southern Sea, so wearing green would tempt her to take us. We knew this was just a superstition, but it always intrigued me. It wasn’t until I was older and living in Jakarta that I learned more about the mythical character. 

In an earlier interview with Alphabet Soup (about your book The Theory of Hummingbirds) you recommended that aspiring young writers read as much as they can. Which writers do you think have influenced your own writing?

Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, inspired me a great deal to become a writer. In fact, I named the main character Louisa in my book Music for Tigers, for her.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 

My current writing project is a middle-grade novel set again in Indonesia. It centres around a captive orangutan and two middle-schoolers who want to save it – one a budding activist and the other is the nephew of the orangutan’s owner. It will also delve into deforestation and the illegal exotic pet trade, identity and belonging.

Girl of the Southern Sea is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Read another interview with Michelle Kadarusman about her previous book The Theory of Hummingbirds

Download the Teachers’ Notes for Girl of the Southern Sea

Find out more about Michelle Kadarusman and her books on the publisher’s website

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman