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.
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.
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