MEET THE AUTHOR
Julia Lawrinson has written more than a dozen books for children and teenagers, many of them award-winning. She grew up in the outer suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, not long after the first moon landing. She loves dogs, oceans, and sunsets, and still likes to gaze at the night sky, just in case. Today we’re chatting to Julia about her book City of Light, illustrated by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson.
From the publisher:
Our city is big.
The universe is bigger.
An astronaut from the other side of the world will fly over
our home, at night. We will see a tiny light and we’ll know
it’s him. But will he be able to see us?
One girl, one boy?
A true story.
City of Light is a story based on a real historical event. How did you go about gathering information before you began writing?
I knew absolutely nothing about this story before I began. The first place I looked was the WA Museum, which had this very comprehensive information. I went to the State Library and looked at the old microfiche with The West Australian from that time. The West Australian also had a helpful article online. And I talked to people like my stepmother, who was twelve at the time and remembers it vividly. Jenny Gregory’s book City of Light was also a helpful source of information. The event even made it into the Hollywood blockbuster film in 1983, called The Right Stuff.
I can’t believe it hasn’t been written about before, as it is such a great story of hope and optimism in the middle of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
How did the book come to have two illustrators – Heather Potter and Mark Jackson?
The illustrators were chosen by the publisher. Heather and Mark are a husband and wife team, and I have not yet met them, though I hope to one day. Heather has also illustrated the work of Western Australian luminaries like Sally Murphy and Dianne Wolfer, so I would call her an honorary Western Australian!
You’re the author of many novels for children and teenagers and this is your first picture book! Can you tell us about your experience of sitting down to write a picture book after writing so many novels?
The first thing I said to the publisher at Wild Dog Books when she approached me was, ‘But I don’t write picture books.’ She replied, ‘I think you’ll be able to write this one.’ We agreed I would try, and I was happy to give it a go. After all, if she didn’t like it, neither of us would be worse off.
The first line came to me when I was walking, and I came home and scribbled it in a notebook, along with the words, ‘torches, car, astronaut, reaching out’.
For the rest, I approached this the way I (and many other writers!) approach most stories – what is the problem, and how are the characters going to fix it?
Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to write a picture book?
The most important thing is to put a child or children (or a non-human character!) at the centre of the story. I would also say to read it aloud: it doesn’t need to rhyme, but it needs to have a pleasing rhythm.
Can you share a bit about what you’re working on next?
I am working on a historical novel based in the 1900s in the goldfields. It is very slow, and the research is sending me down lots of rabbit holes, but I am enjoying the process.
City of Light is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.
Take a sneak peek inside the book at Booktopia’s website.
Download the Teachers’ Notes from the publisher’s website.
Visit Julia Lawrinson’s website for more about her and her books.
Visit Mark Jackson & Heather Potter’s website for more about them and their illustration & art.