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.

Review – Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon

Memories of school holidays for me involved curling up in a cool corner somewhere in the backyard with my friends. I was pretty tight with Trixie Beldon in those days but always had more of an affiliation with animals than solving mysteries. If Lulu Bell had been around some 38 years ago, she would have definitely been in my inner circle of companions.

She’s extremely likeable, has long plaitable hair, a smile wider than a banana and best of all adores animals. She’s also the central character in the enchanting Lulu Bell series by Belinda Murrell and Serena Geddes. And now, finally, my seven year old past-self is able to befriend her.

Lulu Bell Cubby and Moon Dragon Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort and Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon are the third and fourth books in this series about the Bell family and their menagerie of friends, many of them of the furred or feathered kind. Each generously illustrated book centres on a new adventure or incident young Lulu encounters, often arising from her experiences at home and around her father’s work as a vet.

These books are ideal to read in succession or as stand-alone chapter books and are perfect fodder for the insatiable new reader.

L Bell Cubby Fort The Cubby Fort invites us to spend the Easter holidays with Lulu on her Uncle’s farm. The Bell family load up kids, dogs and tents and experience an eventful weekend surrounded by country, cows, cousins and mud. Lots and lots of mud. But when baby brother, Gus, goes missing, fun turns to fear and Lulu is forced to assume the role of Trixie Beldon to solve his disappearance.

L Bell Moon Dragon The Moon Dragon is an illuminating look at friendships and celebrating shared passions and different cultures. Lulu’s best friend, Molly, welcomes her to help with preparations for the Moon Festival. Together, they make dragon costumes, paper lanterns and mouth-watering moon cakes. Excitement grows faster than a full moon, swelling into a colourful parade involving the whole community and the two girls of course.

The language used throughout these books is bouncy and basic enough for young readers to digest whilst cleverly touching on gentle, non-invasive sub-themes such as Molly overcoming her social shyness. I also appreciated Murrell’s lovely sensitivity regarding ‘alternative’ views and thinking depicted by Molly’s mum who fills this year’s moon cakes with jam instead of the traditional red bean paste and salty eggs.

Belinda Murrell Belinda Murrell is a respected author for children with an impressive and solid stable of books including the Sun Sword fantasies and her fascinating historic time-slip tales, like The River Charm. Her convincing narratives draw discerning readers in from the start and in the case of Lulu Bell, have upbeat satisfying conclusions.

The Lulu Bell series draws on Murrell’s own experiences from growing up in a vet hospital and is wickedly good, old-fashioned fun for younger kids, whilst also tapping directly into one of the most keenly pursued topics of vocational interest for girls aged between 6 and 9.

Serena Geddes Serena Geddes’s lively black and white line drawings reflect each adventure perfectly, prompting readers as young as 5 and 6 to keep page flicking.

So I may not have fulfilled my dream of becoming a vet. At least I have made a new friend in Lulu Bell and am happy to see how her dreams pan out.

Fill up your child’s memories these school holidays with Lulu too. Two new enticing titles are due out early January 2014: Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup and Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle, both available hereL Bell Circus Pup

Random House for Children 2013

 

Doodles and Drafts – Charmed with Belinda Murrell

BinnyashakissWhen bestselling, award-winning children’s author Belinda Murrell requested a chat, I was delighted to oblige. And with the dual release of The River Charm and the new Lulu Bell series this month, she has much to talk about. So froth up your café au lait, sit back and discover why squishy bananas, suits of chain-mail and not quite becoming a vet make Belinda smile.

Lulu Bell Unicorn.jpg 2 And don’t forget to read on for my review of The River Charm and details of Belinda’s latest book launch this weekend.

Q Who is Belinda Murrell? Describe your writerly-self for us and the thing that sets you apart from other Aussie children’s authors.

I am a children’s author currently writing my eighteenth book! My books range from picture books, a series of three fantasy adventure books for boys and girls aged 8-12, called The Sun Sword Trilogy and a series of time-slip historical adventure books for older girls called The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Ivory Rose and The Forgotten Pearl. My latest books include The River Charm and a series of six books called Lulu Bell for younger readers.

I love to write for children because I love their whole hearted passion and enthusiasm for books. I am also very inspired by the incredible talent we have here in Australia. There are so many wonderful authors, illustrators, and publishers who are committed to creating exceptional books for our children. I like to think that my books are joyful, thought provoking and vivid.

Sun Sword TrilogyQ Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what was it?

I was a tomboy, with long golden plaits, who loved climbing trees, riding horses, reading books, looking after my animals and sword fighting! I loved writing, and ‘self-published’ novels, poems, plays and stories from about the age of eight in hand illustrated exercise books. However at that age I dreamed of being a vet when I grew up, just like my dad. I didn’t realise that you could have a career as a writer.

Q You write for a wide selection of age groups and children’s genres. Which one do you enjoy the most and why?

My favourite age to write for is probably between 10 and 15. At that age, readers are still young enough to be totally entranced by a story and to love it passionately. However they are also old enough to want to read about more complex issues – history, tragedy, love, loss and redemption. However it has been so much fun to write the much shorter Lulu Bell books for readers aged about 6 to 9.

The River CharmQ Who / what inspired the characters in The River Charm?

The River Charm is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

Q If you could time slip back to the era of the 1840’s, would you? Why?

Yes! I’d love to visit Oldbury (the house that my great-great-great-great grandparents built) and meet the Atkinson family to see how they compare with my imaginings about them. I feel that I know these characters intimately after spending a year researching their lives and adventures. It would be amazing to meet them in real life.

Q What was the most despised thing you’ve ever found in your school lunchbox?

Squished banana and soggy celery.

Lulu PenguinQ Do you think childhood happenings shape your adult writing voice and style? Have yours? Share one moment from your past which has direct bearing on your present.

Yes absolutely. I had a wonderful childhood – full of books, animals and adventures. My mother encouraged us to be creative and imaginative whether it was reading lots of books, writing our own stories, playing imaginative games or just having the time to daydream. She always encouraged us to aim high and be the best we could possibly be. On the other hand, my father was very adventurous – travelling the world and disappearing for months at a time. He used to take us off on amazing trips – sailing the ocean, horse-riding and camping out on remote cattle stations. As a result I have always loved to travel and have had some incredible adventures. Many of these childhood experiences have made their way into my writing. My new Lulu Bell series is very inspired by my childhood, as it is about a girl called Lulu growing up in a vet hospital, just like I did as a child. We had so many animals, including a pony called Rosie who lived in our back garden in suburban Sydney. If anyone left the back door ajar – she was straight into the kitchen searching for snacks. This particular incident inspired a key scene in Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn.

Q Do you have favourites? If so list your favourite read of all time, holiday spot and most memorable breakfast and why.

Favourite book (so hard to pick only one) but I’ll say Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I discovered Jane Austen’s novels when I was a teenager and immediately loved them. I particularly enjoyed the satirical humour of her novels, the witty dialogue and the insight into late eighteenth century English society. I’m enjoying sharing Jane Austen with my own daughter now.

Favourite Holiday Spot – my brother’s farm at Dungog which we visit as often as we can. This is where I keep my horse Nutmeg. We go up there and work with the cattle, get filthy dirty and ride for hours!

Most memorable breakfast – croissants, omelette and café au lait at our apartment in Paris!! For two years, my family and I travelled while I home schooled my three children. One of my favourite places was staying in an apartment in the Marais district of Paris.

Q Did you have a favourite book character or hero as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why?

When I was growing up, I loved Lucie Pevensie from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I loved the book’s enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. My sister and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.

In a way, my heroine Tilly in The Ruby Talisman was like Lucie. With an old family heirloom, she found her way into another world. It was the colourful, dangerous and vibrant world of France in 1789 during the French Revolution. However Tilly was a more modern, feisty heroine than Lucie – and yes, she could fight with a sword!!

Kate and BelindaQ What other Aussie children’s book author(s) do you admire the most and why? (sisters allowed!)

Of course I adore my sister Kate Forsyth. She is an amazing writer and has an incredible knowledge of the publishing industry. We are also very good friends and walk together regularly along the beach, talking about writing, books and our latest plot tangles!

Q Do you write every day? Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

Yes – I try to write every day, unless I am out visiting schools and festivals. I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Asha keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. I usually get all my kids organised for school, take my dog for a walk along the beach, come home make a coffee, sit down and start writing!

Q Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

Definitely the moment when my agent, Pippa Masson, rang to tell me that Random House wanted to publish not just my first book, but a three book deal for The Sun Sword Trilogy! We cracked bottles of the finest French champagne and my feet didn’t touch the ground for days!

Q Name one non-writing goal you’d like to achieve in this lifetime.

To see my three beautiful children grow up to be warm, funny, loving, joyful and inspiring adults. Luckily they are all well on the way!

Q What is on the draft table for Belinda?

I am now writing book 6 in my Lulu Bell series, for junior readers, which is called Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle. However it is a bit of a struggle to concentrate at the moment with all the launch activities. The book is due to my publisher, Zoe Walton, next week so I’d better get cracking with it!!

A Mother's Offering to her ChildrenReview – The River Charm

Until I’d meet Belinda and immersed myself into the absorbing world of The River Charm, I had not given much thought to the first Australian children’s book; what it was about, who wrote it or when it first appeared. The River Charm introduces us to this fascinating period of colonial artistic and literary history with the help of a much cherished river pebble charm which unlocks modern-day Millie’s astonishing 19th century ancestry.

Many aspects of early Australian society may intrigue young readers but probably receive as much serious consideration as the first ever Australian published children’s book does. Murrell successfully weaves fact and fiction together in a mesmerising time-slip historical tale based on her own great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Waring Atkinson who penned, A Mother’s Offering To Her Children in 1841. For me, as much as for Millie, this is an awe-inspiring discovery.

Murrell’s admirable female heroines including the fearless Mamma and her daughter Charlotte, represent the face of human tenacity, and true pioneering spirit surviving amidst the striking yet harsh and unforgiving Australia bush.

It’s a story about endurance and the right to fight for what you believe in. Tween (10-14) girls and lovers of evocative, historical Australian bush themed sagas (the likes of The Silver Brumby that delighted me as a child) will adore The River Charm.

Discover more of Belinda’s enchanting time-slip adventures and books here. Or join her on Friday June 7 for High Tea at Berkelouw Books, shop 24, 215 Condamine St, Stockland Centre, Balgowlah at 6pm for the launch of The River Charm and Lulu Bell. (I’ll be reviewing this fab new series for junior readers later this year.)

Random House Australia Children’s June 2013