Belinda Murrell, Pippa’s Island & Other Treasures

Belinda Murrell is a much-loved author of children’s series fiction and time-slip and historical novels. Her series include ‘Pippa’s Island’, ‘Lulu Bell’, ‘The Sun Sword’ trilogy and ‘The Timeslip’ series. Her books are warm and rich with appealing characters and captivating storylines.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Belinda.

What is your background and where are you based?

I grew up on the North Shore of Sydney in a rambling old house full of books and animals. I studied media, writing and literature at Macquarie University and worked for many years as a travel journalist and corporate writer, before becoming a children’s author. Now I live with my family in a gorgeous old house, filled with books, overlooking the sea in Manly.

What led to your writing books for children?

About 14 years ago I started writing stories for my own three children, Nick, Emily and Lachlan. Some of these stories became The Sun Sword Trilogy, a fantasy adventure series which was published about 12 years ago. I’ve been writing for children of all ages ever since.

What else do you enjoy doing?

 My favourite things to do include walking my dog along the beach, riding my horse at my brother’s farm, skiing, reading books and travelling the world having lots of adventures with my family.  

What themes or issues appear across some of your books?

Finding your courage, being brave and kind, standing up for what you believe in, accepting people’s differences and the importance of family and friends are all themes which I explore in my books. Another issue which is very important to me is creating strong, inspirational female protagonists which girls can relate to. When my daughter was younger, I was disheartened by the number of children’s books which always had boys as the heroes. “You cannot be what you cannot see” and so I strive to create lots of different, interesting and aspirational female characters.

Could you tell us about your books, particularly your latest series, ‘Pippa’s Island’?

The Lulu Bell series is about Lulu and all her animal adventures, living in a vet hospital, inspired by my own childhood as the daughter of a vet. The 13 books have been hugely popular with younger readers, aged about 6 to 8.

My new series, Pippa’s Island is for readers about 8 to 10 years old, and includes five books about friendship, families and seaside adventures. Pippa and her family move halfway across the world to start a new life on gorgeous Kira Island, where Pippa’s mum has the crazy idea of buying a rundown old boatshed and turning it into a bookshop café. Pippa makes friends with Charlie, Cici and Meg, and they form a secret club, called The Sassy Sisters, which meets after school in the tower above the boatshed. Their motto is “Be Brave. Be Bold. And be full of happy spirit.”

For older readers, aged about 10 to 14, I have written a series of seven historical and time slip novels, such as The Ivory Rose, The Lost Sapphire and The Forgotten Pearleach with a modern-day story woven together with a long-forgotten mystery or family secret from the past.

What is Pippa dealing with in the new ‘Pippa’s Island’?

Pippa’s noisy family have been living crammed into a tiny caravan in her grandparents’ back garden and money has been super tight. Pippa’s can’t wait to move into their new apartment right above the Beach Shack café but the builders are taking forever! Pippa’s feeling frustrated until she comes up with a genius plan to make some pocket money: Pippa’s Perfect Pooch Pampering. With a lot of help from her best friends, Pippa starts her own dog walking business. Soon she has her hands full with adorable but pesky pups. What could possibly go wrong? Puppy Pandemonium!!

Which character has most surprised you in ‘Pippa’s Island’?

I absolutely fell in love with my main characters – Pippa and her best friends Charlie, Cici and Meg, who are all so different yet so caring of each other. Yet I also enjoyed discovering how some of my other characters developed over the series. Pippa’s arch rival is Olivia, who is good at everything, whether it’s winning the class academic prize, gymnastics or dancing. Olivia is popular and a natural leader but can be very competitive. At first, Olivia and Pippa seem like they will be friends, but when Pippa tops the class in a maths quiz, Olivia feels threatened and tries to exclude her. Over the course of the series, the girls have a prickly relationship but gradually they work out their differences and learn to appreciate each other.

The ‘Pippa’s Island’ books are full of delicious cupcakes. What is your favourite flavour?

Initially my favourite was Cici’s lemon cupcakes in book one, but then at a Pippa’s Island book launch, a gorgeous librarian baked dozens of divine strawberry cream cupcakes. They were heavenly, and of course starred in book 2!!

Who are your core readers? Where do you have the opportunity to meet them, and have any of their responses been particularly memorable?

My core readers are girls aged between 6 and 14 and it’s been lovely to see readers growing up reading my books, starting with Lulu Bell, then Pippa’s Island and then the time slip books. One of the greatest joys of being a children’s author is meeting kids who love my books at schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. They get so excited! Every year I spend about four months visiting schools and book events all over the country. This year I’ll visit schools in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Tasmania, all over Sydney as well as many regional areas.

The most memorable and humbling experiences have been hearing from readers, particularly of my time slip novels, who feel that my books have changed their lives. A year 12 student wrote a heartfelt letter to thank me for writing her favourite book, The Ivory Rose, that “she’d held so dear for so long”, that helped her decide what she wanted to do with her life. Another 18-year-old girl wrote to say that the adult she’d become and the values she treasured were inspired by my books that she’d read over and over. These letters are so beautiful and make me cry.

What is the value of series fiction, particularly in comparison with stand-alone works?

Kids love reading a whole series of books because they have the chance to really get to know the characters and see how those characters develop and change. It is also comforting for younger readers to know what to expect in a book – that they will love the setting, the style and the writing, so it’s much easier for them to become lost in the story. A series that you love can be completely addictive, whereas a stand-alone book, even a brilliant one is over too soon!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

For my book club, I’ve just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages. It was fantastic – so funny, witty and moving. I absolutely loved The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell, set in a crumbling old English mansion, about a modern-day character called Maggie, trying to discover the secrets of her grandmother’s mysterious past. Another historical book which I loved was The Juliet Code by Christine Wells, about Juliet Barnard, a British spy parachuted into France during World War 2, to help the French Resistance in occupied Paris and her turmoil in dealing with these experiences when the war is over.

What are you writing about now or next?

I have two completely different and new projects that I’m very excited about. The first is a middle-grade children’s fantasy novel set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. I’m in the early stages of writing the story and am heading to Tuscany in the New Year to explore tiny fortified hill towns, medieval towers and secret tunnels. The other project is very special – a book which I’m writing with my sister Kate Forsyth, to be published by the National Library of Australia. It is a biblio-memoir about growing up in a family of writers and the life of our great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Atkinson, who wrote the very first children’s book, published in Australia in 1841.

Thanks Belinda, and all the very best with your books.

Meet Deadly D and Justice Jones

deadlyd_risingstar_cover_coloThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Deadly D/Dylan and Justice about your Deadly D and Justice Jones books (Magabala Books).

Kids who like rugby league and sport are going to love these books.

Questions for Dylan/Deadly D and Justice –

What are your favourite football teams and players?

Dylan: Growing up in Mount Isa and being a North Queensland boy, Cowboys are my favourite team with Broncos a close second.

Justice: I  loved the Warriors before I met Dylan. Now I love the Broncos too because Deadly D plays for them!

Tell us about yourselves.

Dylan: Well brah, I grew up in Mount Isa and loved watching and playing rugby league and spending time with my cousins. I’ve got a hidden talent – when I get angry I turn into Deadly D, but apparently it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone.

Justice: I was born in Wellington, New Zealand and now I live in Brisbane. I sit next to Dylan in Mr Barwick’s class. The chicks dig my hair cuz. I spend too much money on hair product though. Nah, just jokes man!

Who are your friends and enemies at school?Deadly D #1

Dylan: My main man is Justice Jones, he’s got my back. We’re like brothers from a different mother. We’re not overly friendly with Jared Knutz and his crew. They try their best to get under our skin.

Justice: What he said.

Is Deadly D really better looking than Scott Prince?

Justice: Princey always looks sharp on the telly with his fresh haircuts, but Deadly D has the big muscles and looks that could stop the traffic in downtown Brisbane bro! All his followers on Twitter compare him to Brad Pitt.

Is Sam Thaiday really afraid of heights?

Dylan: Yes he is, ever since the day he slept in his tree house as a kid and sleepwalked out the door he’s been afraid of heights and falling. Not many people know about that, but he has a scar on his forehead to prove it. Look closely and you’ll see it.

How do we find out more about you – is another book on the way?

Justice: Our latest book is Deadly D and Justice Jones – Rising Star, but I think those funny fellas Scott and Dave are working on the third book. I hope they are because I’m getting heaps of fan mail.

Scott PrinceQuestions for authors, Scott and Dave –

How do you work out who is writing what?

Dave: Scott and I talk about the events that will happen in the story and we map it out. I’ll write the skeleton of a few chapters and then meet with Scott to flesh them out a bit more.

How do you make the stories funny?

Scott: Well if you spend half a day with Dave and I, you’d understand our humour and we both look at the bright side of life.

How do you keep the writing so tight?

Dave: We always have a lot to fit into our stories and we like to keep the momentum strong, so our writing is always action-packed. We like to keep the reader guessing.

Who is better at drawing – Scott or Dave?

Scott: In terms of drawing and expressing our ideas that we come up with, Dave is talented enough to portray our vision on to paper. But he still hasn’t given me a chance to express my drawing capabilities. I don’t know where he hides the pencils.

Why have you written these books?

Scott: We’re passionate about getting reluctant readers to pick up a book. We understand from our own experiences growing up as sport lovers  that rugby league is a very powerful tool to engage children to read. It’s also an opportunity for me to express some life experiences by keeping it real but by also using our imagination, as you’ll see in Rising Star.

What feedback are kids giving you?

Scott: Through the editing process, we’ve found that our own kids have been very honest in their opinions! We’ve had to wipe some tears of laughter and disappointment, but they’ve played a key role in shaping stories.

Dave: Some of our readers tell us that they’ve read our books ten times in a row, which is amazing. They also give us ideas about what to write for each character in upcoming stories. So if you’re reading this, please find Deadly D Books on Facebook and share your feedback with us – we’d love to hear it!

Thanks very much, Deadly D, Justice (Scott Prince and Dave Hartley).