Penni Russon has written seven books including Little Bird for which she has received a 2010 CBCA Notable award. We’re going to feature Little Bird on Kids’ Writing Capers on Wednesday, but today we’re going to talk about Penni, the author.
Penni grew up in Tasmania and says she still considers herself to be a Tasmanian writer.
Penni, can you tell us how your writing career started?
Writing was always something that existed at the periphery of my being, though as a primary school kid I wanted to be a clown, and then an actor.
By the time I started uni it was archaeology that I was interested in.
But really when you connect all those things up what they have in common is storytelling and, for clowning and acting, playfulness.
It also shows I didn’t ever want to be a proper grown up with an office job. I fell out of love with archaeology when I realised it was less about dreaming up stories than it was about verifiable facts. Along the way I always wrote – mostly poetry until my mid twenties when I discovered that I knew how to think in novels.
Was it hard converting storytelling to writing?
The actual becoming a writer seems easy. I finished my BA, thought ‘now what?’ and found the diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. I vaguely thought there might be a job in it for me. I developed my writing and rewriting and workshopping skills (alongside some pretty fabulous peers, including one the Alllen & Unwin editor who edited my book, Little Bird.
I also did a work experience placement at Allen & Unwin and when I finished they kept giving me freelance editing work. Then my friend, writer Kirsty Murray, told me ‘they don’t want another editor, they’re waiting for you to write a book.’ So I did. I am very obedient.
What did working as an editor teach you about writing?
Working as a structural editor (reading books and writing big reports on what was working and what wasn’t, highlighting inconsistencies in the plot, or characterisation, asking questions like ‘what’s at stake for the main character?’) had been like an apprenticeship in being a writer, though I learned a lot by writing and rewriting my early novels too.
Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations?
Birds come up a bit, the sea is a big motif for me (growing up on an island). My first three books were set in Tasmania, which I came back to for Little Bird. I am interested in that age where girls come into their power, sexually, but also in terms of understanding their effect on the world around them, their autonomy, their strength… I felt that I mishandled that transition, hurting people in the process. Perhaps that’s why I am so interested in exploring how different girls deal with it.
Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Penni. On Wednesday, Penni is coming back to tell us about how she wrote her award winning Little Bird and where the inspiration come from.
Hope you can join us then.