THE JOURNEY OF PENNI RUSSON’S “LITTLE BIRD”

On Monday, we spoke to author Penni Russon about how she became an author. Today she is going to tell us all about the inspiration behind her award winning book, Little Bird.

Little Bird tells the story of teenager, Ruby-lee who falls in love with the baby she is looking after.

Congratulations Penni on receiving a 2010 CBCA Notable for Little Bird. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this book came from?

I worked in childcare the year after I left school, then as a babysitter all through uni. I had that experience of working with a particular baby who I fell for. It was a physical, almost biological, love (not icky!), which I recognised when I held my own babies years later.

I’d recently done a week of regional touring where I talked to lots of girls who didn’t read. So Ruby-lee lives in an ex-council estate outer suburb of Hobart, and is a non-reader and at one stage her teacher says something along the lines of ‘why are girls like you so determined to oppress yourselves?’, reflecting my own frustration.

Are any of the characters based on real people?

The character of Spence (baby Maisy’s estranged father and a teacher at Ruby-lee’s school) is based on a real person – I was interested in the idea of a teacher who falls for a student, exploring him not as a social pariah or even a dirty old man, but as someone a bit sad and pathetic, though not irredeemable.

Having worked in childcare, you obviously knew a lot about it. Was there any reason you wanted to feature childcare in your book?

I wanted to write about a girl who wants to be a childcarer in recognition of the fantastic young women I worked with, and also the young men and women who have looked after my own kids.

Childcare is a terribly undervalued and underpaid industry, but it also offers amazing opportunities for young women to move up quickly through the ranks, and to travel and support themselves.

Can you tell us about your main character, Ruby-lee?

I love Ruby-lee. I think I love her the most of all my characters. She is flawed – she lets herself be pushed around by big personalities, is too easily impressed, and she has a lazy streak. But though she’s grown up in a culture of not reading (she used to read in primary school but fell out of the habit), she is quick witted and reflective and she actually expresses herself eloquently – she has all this possibility lurking beneath her surface. And she has a really heightened sense of right and wrong, and in the end she starts making decisions that shows she’s in control of her future, she is not just the sum of her past.

How have you used the ‘little bird’ motif in your story?

I wove a thread all the way through the manuscript. In the end the bird represents both Maisy, the baby bird that Ruby-lee must protect, but also Ruby-lee herself, a bird about to spread her wings and leave the nest. It gave the novel a poetic strand it was missing, that delicately wove all the emotional threads of the story and I was very proud of the end result.

It’s always great for readers to find out how their favourite books have been created. Thanks Penni for for sharing the story of Little Bird with us.

Dee

www.pennirusson.com
www.eglantinescake.blogspot.com

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Dee White

Dee White lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural country town which has more kangaroos than people. She has worked as an advertising copywriter and journalist and has had numerous career changes because until recently, writing wasn’t considered to be a proper job. Letters to Leonardo, her first novel with Walker Books Australia, was published in 2009 to great critical acclaim.

3 thoughts on “THE JOURNEY OF PENNI RUSSON’S “LITTLE BIRD””

  1. Penni, when I first started work in Blacktown, the youth worker out there explained to me the motivations behind young working class girls having babies in their teens. It was quite the eye-opener for me—it’s actually in many cases a very practical economic decision. Have a baby young, get onto the list for public housing which gives them a home and security and they are no longer dependent on a boyfriend who is just as likely to scarper. They don’t have any aspirations for further education, probably no-one in their family have even finished high school. I’ve been very careful with my own assumptions ever since! (Not making a comment on yours, by the way—but I think the challenge is to give these young women alternative life paths through work and education, change the culture from within and break the generational cycle…)

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