Mark Greenwood is an author with a passion for history. His books, The Legend of Moondyne Joe and The Legend of Lasseter’s Reef have won the West Australian Premier’s Award for children’s books. Ned Kelly & The Green Sash won the West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award and Simpson and His Donkey was a CBCA Honour Book. His recent book Jandamarra, illustrated by Terry Denton, has been shortlisted for a number of awards including the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for 2014, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature 2014 and the 2014 West Australian Young Readers’ Book Awards. Mark often teams with his wife, illustrator Frané Lessac, to produce books that promote an understanding of multicultural issues, such as Drummer Boy of John John, Magic Boomerang, Outback Adventure, and Our Big Island. His other books include Magic Boomerang, Outback Adventure, Our Big Island, The Greatest Liar on Earth, Fortuyn’s Ghost. The Mayflower and Midnight – The Story of a Light Horse will be published in the US in 2015. Mark will be my Stories on Stage guest at Koorliny Arts Centre on June 10.
Monique: Your website describes you as an author with a passion for history. Where did this passion come from?
Mark: I’m not sure where my passion for history came from, but I do know I’m very curious about the past – the well-known and little known slices of history – folklore, legends, characters, journeys, quests and challenges. I enjoy fossicking for stories that make me want to search for the truth. My passion is sharing those stories.
Monique: What made you choose to channel your love of history into writing for children?
Mark: I want to breathe life into history so learning about characters and events in our past is inspiring for young readers. My task is to seek stories that connect students of all ages to people and situations, so they can also develop an interest in our history. My intention is that my books will become a springboard for further deeper study and understanding about the past.
Monique: How do you choose the ‘story behind the story’?
Mark: Until a writer uncovers the story, all we have is an idea. To bring the idea to life is all in the telling – finding the shape of a story. For me, the most crucial stage in bringing history to life is going to setting I’m writing about, where the historical events actually occurred; these journeys of discovery help balance creative interpretation with historical authenticity. It’s a fascinating and memorable part of the writing process, and it’s usually where I find ‘story behind the story’.
Monique: What are the stages your idea goes through to become a book? How long can it take?
Mark: *Initial spark – perhaps generated by a character or a setting or a photograph that teases my imagination.
*Inquisitive mind begins the obsessive research process.
*Sifting through clues like a detective, analysing data and evidence. * Go to place where the actual events occurred
* Then months of drafts and discarded writing and changes of direction before the idea is realised.
Sometimes tenacious research can become an obsession, as was the case for The Legend of Lasseter’s Reef, which took ten years to become a book.
Monique: How do you carry out your research?
Mark: I enjoy the process that comes with discovery. Research requires I sift through clues like a detective, analyzing data and evidence, so that my writing conveys a sense of authority on a particular subject. I’m compulsively drawn to foraging through rare books. I look at the task of researching as an adventure, an unveiling of facts that perhaps have long been forgotten or lost. Research will help capture a setting and enhance the narrative. It will allow readers to taste, touch, and smell the setting, and see, hear and feel for our characters. For me the ultimate purpose of research is to become steeped in a period so that in my dreams and imaginings I can walk undetected in the past. If I’ve researched my subject well enough I can get close enough to my characters to read the expression in their eyes or hear the tone of their voice.
Monique: Have you ever, or do you have plans to, write for adults?
Mark: I have written a novel. It has indigenous content so I am still in the process of seeking permissions from relevant elders and people of authority before it is published.
Monique: How did you become involved in running workshops for children? What do you enjoy most about this aspect of your writing life?
Mark: Writing allows me to share time with creative people and meet students of all ages. I am constantly speaking in schools to the audience that I’m writing for. Working with students of all ages enriches me in many ways, beyond just writing books.
Monique: You’ve got a busy year ahead, with a number of tours around the country. Is there anything you’re particularly excited about? How do you fit in writing time?
Mark: This year my writing has taken me all around Australia as well on speaking engagements at international festivals in Edinburgh, UK, India, Indonesia, China and the US. Over the past few years I have had books published in America and I’m keen to develop that market for my work. I’m excited to be heading back there later this year.
On my travels I take my work with me and try to find time to write whenever I can.
Monique: How much time do you spend writing or working on writing-related projects?
Mark: Writing time is not something I consciously measure because the process includes researching, planning, thinking – along with the actual act of writing itself. When I’m ‘on a roll’ (and not travelling) I’m at my computer day and night.
Monique: What impact has winning awards such as the West Australian Premier’s Book Award had on your writing career?
Mark: Awards are a confirmation that you’re ‘on the right track’. But I don’t write for awards. I write because I enjoy creating. The awards process is so judgemental I don’t worry about it too much. But when an award does come your way, it is definitely something to savour.
Monique: Your wife, illustrator Frané Lessac, often works with you on projects. How does this work in practice?
Mark: We have awesome adventures travelling together, researching projects. We’re both supportive of each other through the trials and tribulations of creating books. I admire Frane’s naïve style and intuitively know how she will paint a particular scene. We constantly talk about ideas, right from the beginning, so we can visualise an initial concept and then see it through to the finished book.
Monique: What advice would you give someone who wants to write books for children?
Mark: I’ve learnt to embrace the solitude of writing. I’ve learned the importance of finding time to read for pleasure and not just for research. I’ve learnt that to write well is an ongoing lifelong process and to strive to learn and improve….and importantly – READ, READ, READ. If you are genuine about writing, ‘read with a writer’s eye’. Reading is the source of knowledge about writing.
Monique: What sort of feedback do kids give you about your books?
Mark: I promote my books through a busy touring circuit of schools, libraries and literature festivals. I enjoy working with students of all ages, inspiring and developing their natural curiosity about books and writing. I am constantly in front of the audience I am writing for and always receive great feedback from children. They are so honest and thankfully their feedback has always been positive.
Monique: Tell me about your road to publication. What are some of the highlights and lowlights?
Mark: Starting out, knock backs from publishers were frustrating but I’ve learnt that although publishing is a tough, competitive business, there are far more highs than lows.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing?
Mark: Persevere. Try to be patient. Go for a walk. And mostly talk things through with people I trust – particularly my editors, whose advice is always encouraging and often takes my work in new and unexpected directions.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Mark: Distraction. I have too many ideas. I need to finish one project before moving on to another.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Mark: It makes your rich.
Monique: Which children’s book authors do you admire the most?
Mark: The beautiful language of Margaret Wild, the simplicity of Oliver Jeffers, the art of Kadir Nelson … recently I was blown away by A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Mark: I’m reading a very, very, very large pile of research books …and Einstein’s Dreams for pleasure.
Monique: Where in Perth or Western Australia would you take an overseas visitor?
Mark: Rottnest and Margaret River … and further afield, to the Kimberley.
Thanks for answering my questions, Mark.