January 26, 2013

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild

Illustrated by Marla Frazee

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Here’s an interview I did on-line in 2000 about the writing of Harriet. I apologise for not remembering name of the interviewer or the magazine in question.

This book and several of your others are about a mother and her children (or child). Since this is for our Mother’s Day issue could you tell us what draws you to this relationship as an author?
The mother-child relationship is probably the most important relationship in anyone’s world since it sets in place patterns of thought and behaviour that will last all our lives.  I try very hard through my books to write words that will help mothers (and fathers) relate lovingly to their children, so children will feel safe, loved, and valued, no matter who they are, or what circumstances they live in.

What does being a mother mean to you personally?
Being there and being very loving, without giving in to every whim. Mothers are children’s anchors in a turbulent world.

Could you tell us a little about your relationship with your own mother? Did she read a lot to you when you were little?
My mother claims to have read to me very little but when I remind her of favourite books from my childhood she says: “Oh, YES!  I remember that!” Of course she read to me!  My relationship with my mother is the same as it was when I was ten:  I’m still trying to impress her and I’m 54 years old.It’s ridiculous.  But we get on well and have lots of laughs together. She’s 85 and still swims in the sea on summer mornings.

What were some of your favorite books when you were young?
They’re Australian books, mainly about animals and plants.  I guess they wouldn’t mean much to an American audience.

The message in Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! seems to be as important to mothers as it is to their children. What inspired you to write it?
I try to be a good mother but hey, sometimes it just doesn’t work.  I hear myself being kind and sensible and rational and sweet and understanding and think: ‘Wow, you really are a brilliant mother.’  Then something will happen and within seconds I’ve totally lost it and find I’m yelling my head off. I think it’s honest to yell.  It clears the air.  No one is perfect all the time: neither parents nor children.

What do you think is important to focus on when creating books for the very, very young?
I think books for the very young need to be short; they need to have either a bouncy rhythm, or a rhyme, or lots of repetition, or a combination of all three. If it’s an actual story with a beginning, middle and end, then there needs to be real trouble in it, which affects the child and which the child can relate to. And everyone needs to live happily ever after.

Your books are always great “before bed” reading. Could you talk about the importance of parents’ reading to their small children?
Well, sure I could but that would take 60,000 words! I’m writing a book for parents on that very subject right now.  It’s frightening how harmful it is to kids’ futures not to read aloud at least three books a day, every day, from birth until the children start school.  And then as often as possible after that.  I can’t stress enough the gains that children make when they are read aloud to: for a start they love their parents even more than usual, because the read-aloud session is such a warm and loving, funny and delicious experience for everyone involved.

Animals are often the central characters of your books. Could you talk about why that is
I’m not sure.  I guess my best answer is: why not?

How did growing up in Zimbabwe shape who you are today? Do you think it influences your writing?
Growing up in Africa taught me one of the great lessons in life: that all human beings are the same.  We all have the same potential, the sameweaknesses, the same brains, the same hearts and the same ability to laugh and cry.  This belief comes out most strongly in my book Whoever You Are.

Could you tell us the story of how you entered the world of children’s publishing?
I was a mature-age college student taking a course in children’s literature and our first assignment was to write a children’s book.  I wrote a story that my professor loved, but it was rejected by nine publishers over five years.  The tenth publisher took it and made some editorial suggestions.  I re-wrote it and called it Possum Magic.  It has gone on to become the best selling children’s book in Australia’s history. Amazing. I can’t believe this fairy story happened to ME.  Hurrah!HarrietYoullDriveMeWild02