Sam Gorey knew that she had an odd family, because other people said so. She lived with her mother Elena in a little house by the sea, and her uncle Jimmy Wonderspoon, who most people thought was even stranger than Elena, lived around the corner. Her father, David Gorey, had disappeared two years before. It wasn’t that unusual not to have a Dad, but it was unusual to have a father who had literally vanished in a puff of blue smoke at the supermarket while he was buying toothpaste. Just after her tenth birthday, Sam discovered her father was not only a wizard, but a spy, and not only a spy, but had been thrown into prison in another world peopled by cats and rats. And that was only the beginning of her accidental quest to rescue her missing father from the evil Ingkor of Wat.
Alison has agreed to answer a few question for us! Welcome Alison!
When I write stories, maybe the most important aspect for me is to get the relationships in them real. I suppose I want the readers to feel that these characters are as real to them as they are to me, and that what they feel is genuine, however absurd or fantastic their situations might be. I like Sam, my main character, quite a lot: she is feisty and fun, and she’s quite brave, although she does get herself into trouble because she is so impulsive. And her relationship to her mother feels very real to me.
Although it’s a nonsensical comic plot, I wrote the book in part to talk about difficult things, like what it’s like to miss someone you love, or what it’s like when you quarrel with people close to you, or what it’s like when your family is a bit different from other people. In this case, Sam’s family is a bit ramshackle: her father is a wizard spy and her mother is a poet.
I also had a lot of fun making up the world of Wat, and all the animal characters. Wat is where Sam ends up with her eccentric uncle, Jimmy Wonderspoon, trying to rescue her father, who has been kidnapped and imprisoned there.
Tell about your writing process. How long did it take you to write Jimmy Wonderspoon from idea to finish? Please tell about revision is you can!
I generally write quite fast, although with long gaps in which the book is “cooking” in my subconscious. I wrote Jimmy Wonderspoon about ten years ago to amuse my daughter Zoe, and I think it took about a month. She was then about 11 and I read her each chapter as I wrote it. It was a very enjoyable way to write. Then I ran it past my two sons too, who both gave me the thumbs up.
The story actually emerged from a very vivid and strange dream, in which I was flying through clouds in a giant shoe, looking over a weird purple landscape. I woke up and thought, I have to write that story! Although, of course, I had no idea until I started writing it what it was about. Mainly, I just had fun making things up: I felt very free writing this story.
As for editing – I think I’m quite unusual among writers, because generally that’s my favourite part of writing. I’m working on the edits of my next book, a young adult novel Black Spring, right now (out in 2012/2013 with Candlewick) and I’m enjoying the process. Most writers I know hate it. I like the problem solving aspect of it – there’s nothing better than making a cut that solves a problem you’ve been fiddling with for days. It’s very satisfying when you feel that you’ve got something right. I also really enjoy collaborating with other people.
I edited Jimmy Wonderspoon myself: it’s been sitting in a drawer for ten years, which is why I’ve self-published it. I figured that maybe there are people out there who might like it as much as my children did.
Is the story and/or characters based on anything/anyone in your real life?
It is – I used all sorts of things. The section set in the “real” world describes a place very like the Melbourne suburb in which we lived at the time, and Sam’s home is based on my sister’s house, which was just around the corner from us. Most of its animal characters are based on various pets we knew. Certainly all the cats are: we knew a lot of cats, and I based all the cats on real animals and their peculiarities.
Sam is rather like my daughter, although not quite the same – she’s a fictional character, after all. (I should say that Zoe never poured green paint over her school enemy, and certainly never broke anybody’s nose.) She always tells me off for saying so, but at the time I wrote the story, she had a shocking temper. That stopped when she became a teenager, which is probably the wrong way around, but our family has often been the wrong way round.
When you were in middle school kind of student were you? Did you write then?
I was rather shy and awkward. Like a lot of people who end up being writers, I think! I was bright, but socially rather backwards. I have always written things, for as long as I can remember. According to my mother (I don’t remember) I wrote a verse on my first day at school. I attempted my first novel when I was about 10. That eventually, about 30 years later, ended up becoming my first fantasy series, The Books of Pellinor.
And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing?
Oh gosh. That is a hard one, because there are so many. Narrowing the focus to writers for young readers, I suppose
Antoine St Expury’s The Little Prince is right near the top of my list of best children’s books ever: I totally admire the simplicity and beauty of his prose, and how he tells with such charm – and yet with not a trace of false sentiment - a fable that explores some profound truths. I’m afraid I cry every time I read it. I’d also put all Maurice Sendak’s books pretty near the top. Other favourites include the English writer David Almond, who is a brilliant writer by any standard. I’ve always admired CS Lewis’s style in the Narnia books, even if as I got older I became less enamoured of some of his messages (I always thought he was very unfair to Susan). He knows exactly how to write for young people.
The Fun Questions! (based on what 7th graders do!)
Do you chew gum? Yes or No If yes favorite kind?
No, but I do eat a lot of chocolate. Milk chocolate, by preference, but I’ll eat whatever I can get.
Did you pass notes in school? Ever get caught?
I was caught drawing a cartoon of my science teacher once. I hated him – I think it was mutual – and I drew him covered with spots. I was caught by my very ironical maths teacher, who was actually quite nice. Looking back, I think he was trying not to laugh, but he told me off anyway.
Do you text?
Yes, but I am the worst texter in the world. Autocorrect means that some of my friends have received messages from me that they simply do not understand.
Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?!
In Australia, we don’t have school lunches. We had to bring our own, or buy meat pies and salad rolls at the school canteen. I much preferred buying my lunch. My mother made our own bread, which meant we had to take sandwiches like crumbly bricks to school. I’m sure they were nice, but I wanted to have white bread like everyone else.
Thank you Alison for visiting The O.W.L. today! I never knew Australia doesn't have school lunches!
I also love the reason for writing the book - to keep your daughter entertained! What a sweet way to write a book.