Mark Greenwood is an author with a passion for Australian history. When we interviewed him, Mark had so many interesting things to say that we had a terrible time trying to decide which bits to leave out! (We had to cut it down to two pages for the magazine’s Q&A.)
You can read his Q&A on pages 4 and 5 of the Spring 2009 issue of Alphabet Soup. But we didn’t want you to miss out on the extra stuff, so we decided to include the whole interview here. (Thanks Mark!)
What do you love best about being a writer?
Being an author has to be one of the best jobs in the world! I get to visit schools and libraries and festivals and meet students of all ages. I spend time with other talented authors and like sharing ideas with creative people.
I enjoy researching the past and travelling to where my stories take place, whether that be remote Central Australia for The Legend of Lasseter’s Reef, the Abrolhos Islands for Fortuyn’s Ghost or to Galipolli for Simpson and His Donkey. These adventures are what makes writing special to me.
Where do you live?
I live in a town steeped in history. It is a place of significance for Indigenous people. Convicts built many buildings. It has a spectacular river that runs through its port. It has two prisons, but no prisoners – only ghosts. It has a harbour and a wharf, a gothic arts centre and a town hall clock that chimes every hour. You can get a great coffee where I live. It even has its own AFL football team.
What made you become a writer?
Before I was a writer I was a professional musician. I spent many years touring and recording in Australia and overseas with the record producers and well known musicians. I learnt the language of lyrics by listening to great songwriters and then developed from writing lyrics into creating stories for children. Music has had a big influence on my writing in terms of being aware of the rhythm and flow of words. I associate language and rhythm with pleasure. Initially music was a way for me to connect with people. Now I find writing gives me that connection.
Was it easy to get your first book published?
It took many years, much hard work, many rejections from publishers and numerous hours revising my words before I finally got my first book published. Rejection letters from publishers are like ‘badges of honour’. Every writer I know has collected a few badges.
After having a number of books published I still consider myself a writer with much to learn. To strive to write well is an ongoing, lifelong process. I’m passionate about learning and always trying to improve.
Is there a ‘downside’ to being a writer?
I like the solitude of writing and immersing myself in a character, a time and a place but sometimes the craft of writing can be a lonely one. The only other downside for me is that writing and travelling takes up a lot of my time and I wish there were more hours in the day so I could get behind the drum kit and play with some of my favourite musicians. Our planet has an extraordinary musical diversity. I’ve always been interested in exploring the power and mystery of percussion from cultures around the world.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I don’t have a favourite author because there are so many writers I admire, but the Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. That book stands out as one of my favourites. I like the language, the story and the symbolism. My father first read it to me when I was young and it’s a book I’ve re-read many times since. It’s a story of man’s place within nature. It’s about pride and determination and an honourable old man who will not accept defeat. Hemingway uses characters, objects, figures and colours to represent ideas or concepts. It’s a beautifully written book.
Do you have any pets?
I have goldfish and a cat named Nugget (who sleeps all day long). Over the years we’ve had rabbits and guinea pigs and another tomcat called Milo. But my favourite pet is my faithful dog, Rusty. My daughter begged for a puppy and promised to feed and walk it. I got that job and I’ve never regretted it. Rusty is a red and white border collie. He is a best friend and a loyal companion. It’s an honour to spend time with him. He’s always so excited to see me.
Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?
The initial spark that causes me to want to write may be something as simple as a dog-eared photo with a question that teases my imagination or an artefact that generates, interest and discussion – a nugget of gold, a relic of war, a shipwreck coin. Those of us who write about history enjoy the hunt. We love to fossick for sources of information. We enjoy the smell and feel of old newspapers, antique maps and rare books. We’re all curious about the past and that curiosity leads to lots of reading, which leads to many adventures.
I keep an ideas book with clippings of articles and stories that intrigue me but sometimes stories just seem to find me.
Of your own books, which is your favourite?
I don’t have a favourite – each book is like a child that I have cared for and nourished and has grown up into a book. It would be impossible to choose a favourite – like it is impossible for a parent to choose their favourite child. I love them all. They all have special memories and adventures associated with them.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I have lots of hobbies. I like geology and collecting rocks and minerals. I love music and playing the drums. I enjoy fossicking for antiques, rare books, artefacts and curiosities. I travel a lot and that is always a source of inspiration. I’ve always had a passion for AFL Football – I’m a one eyed supporter.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
I would say that if you are genuine about writing make time to read books. Importantly ‘read with a writer’s eye’. Reading is the source of knowledge about writing. Find yourself a good book – one that takes you to places never imagined or shows you things that dazzle your mind. Find a book that challenges you to think about the world and your place in it. Read a book that tweaks your sense of adventure or inspires you to discover more. A vast treasure of thoughts, deeds and dreams lies waiting to be discovered in books.
Your wife, Frané Lessac, has illustrated some of your books. Do you work together on a book from its beginning?
Working with Frané is always a pleasure. I intuitively know how she will paint a particular scene so I will have that in mind when I compose the language. We constantly talk about ideas – right from the beginning, so we can visualise an initial concept together and then see it through to the finished book.
Story always comes first. Once my text is close to a final version, after hundreds of rewrites and after working closely with my editor, it is then ready to handover to the illustrator. Frané takes the text quite literally and paints so much detail from the words that sometimes I can look at the artwork or sketches and give the text one final snip. Taking a loss on the word count and letting the art tell certain parts of the story always improves a picture book. To express what I want to say in fewer words makes me work harder and I believe it makes the collaboration of text and art even stronger.
Are you working on a book at the moment? Can you tell us something about it?
I’m working on a number of projects at the same time.
The Green Sash (Walker Books) will be published in 2010. Frané Lessac is illustrating it as we speak and I’m very excited to be doing a book on Australia’s most famous bushranger. Can you guess?
I am about to head up north to spend three days with an Indigenous custodian of a fabulous story. I hope to be granted permission to retell a wonderful story. I will be travelling on this adventure with one of Australia’s most well known illustrators.
I also have a young adult novel close to completion and two new picture books in progress. So you can see the life of a writer is never dull!
You can find out more about Mark Greenwood on his website: www.artbeatpublishers.com.