Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Conversation With Judith Ridge

Judith Ridge is internationally recognised as one of Australia’s leading experts on literature for children and young adults. In a career spanning more than 20 years, she has worked as a teacher, writer, critic and editor. Judith has taught children’s literature at several universities and has been invited on numerous occasions to speak at conferences, festivals and seminars in Australia, Ireland, the UK and the USA. She has been a judge on the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, is a Churchill Fellow and has an MA in children’s literature. Judith is currently writing her PhD on Australian children's and young adult fantasy fiction.

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world.

Featuring a collection of 32 personal stories by authors including Markus Zusak, Benjamin Law and Jaclyn Moriarty, illustrated with black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan, this is a perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

  • ·  Benjamin Law reveals his love-affair with Roald Dahl’s books, from The Twits, to Georges Marvellous Medicine and The BFG – and his early encounters with his sister’s copies of Dolly magazine and Flowers in the Attic.

  • ·  Markus Zusak gives 12 reasons for why The Outsiders shaped his future reading and why he’s always wanted to be Ponyboy.

  • ·  Randa Abdel-Fattah recalls the exciting teenage discovery of a heroine like herself in Looking for Alibrandi.

  • ·  Jaclyn Moriarty remembers her relief at finding a model for her own childhood rage in The Magic Finger.
These and many other stories will resonate with all book lovers and the role that books have played in their lives and the people they have become.

All royalties from the sale of the book will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Our thanks to Judith for taking part in A Conversation With...we really enjoyed this wonderful book about the power of books and reading. Good luck with the future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

As a child, I thought I’d grow up and write novels and poetry—instead, I’ve mostly written reviews and criticism, author interviews and opinion pieces. One of my first articles was published was an interview with Diana Wynne Jones, who made only one visit to Australia in the early 90s. I've written for journals, newspapers and online publications in Australia and the US. I have also written some short non-fiction for children, in The School Magazine, a 101-year-old literary magazine for children published by the NSW Department of Education, where I worked as an on-staff editor and occasional writer in the 90s and 2000s. I have started work on a children's novel and have a few rough picture book drafts lurking in the bowels of my computer!

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

My writing has always been a form of advocacy for children’s and youth literature, and with a few projects I have in the works, I hope will also be a form of record-keeping, of both marking and commenting on significant Australian children’s and YA books, and genres, and the overall importance of books for young people.

What I like most about writing is having written—writing is, for me, hard work, but sometimes, when the ideas are full and complete in my head, and the writing comes easily (more or less!), there’s a real buzz from seeing those ideas flow out onto the page. There’s such satisfaction to be had in making your thoughts tangible in words. What I like about the qualities of my writing depends on what kind of writing it is; in my personal writing, I enjoy marrying personal experience with a wider idea or issue. In critical writing, I am happiest when I feel as if I have captured what the book, or author, is trying to do. I feel very satisfied when i feel as if I have captured the essence of a person I am interviewing, or have shed light on a topic I am either (or both) passionate and opinionated on. But I’m never completely satisfied—there’s always a word, or phrase, or tone, you wish you could tweak, even years after publication.

How important has reading been in your life?

It was the single most important think in my life for the first 18 years (apart from family). As an adult, life, study and work commitments means I have maybe less than a tenth of the time available to reading for pleasure than I did as a child, but finding the right book to fit my mood is still the thing that brings me the deepest pleasure, intellectually and emotionally, of anything.

What led to the creation of The Book That Made Me?

I read a lot of books and articles and so on about reading and writing, and a decade or so ago there was a spate of essay anthologies and lists and so on by writers for adults on books and authors that were important to them. I thought this might be something that young readers would be interested in, and would also be an opportunity to expose dedicated young readers to writers and books they might not otherwise come across, via recommendations from writers they read and admired. I know from experience that when readers get together, these are the kinds of conversations they have, and I really felt a book that gathered the youthful reading experiences and influences of writers for young people would find a welcoming audience. Thankfully, Walker Books agreed!  

How important was it to include diverse authors in your book?

It was both essential and non-negotiable. Fortunately, my publisher was completely on board with that.

Royalties are to be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), tell us more about this organisation.

The ILF is a foundation dedicated to improving literacy rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. There is a massive gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; Indigenous Australians die on an average of ten years before non-Indigenous Australians; they have higher rates of infant mortality, poorer overall health, and are massively over-represented in detention. And their educational outcomes are much, much poorer. The ILF acknowledges the role literacy can play in improving all of these inequalities, and delivers a range of programs to children and families. They were my first (and only) choice as the charity to receive The Book That Made Me’s royalties. Again, happily, my publisher agreed! I would urge people to read more about their work here.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

My PhD! But I do have some other book projects under way as well, but too soon to name them.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

If I had to choose just one, it would have to be Judy Woolcot from the Australian classic novel, Seven Little Australians. I took my website and social media name (Misrule) from this book, and I adored Judy. It helped that we had the same name! (Kind of—her real name is actually Helen, and Judy is a nickname.) If I can have two, I’d also claim Harriet M. Welch, from Harriet the Spy.

Thanks to Walker Books Australia for the review copy of The Book That Made Me.

Follow Judith on Twitter: @msmisrule

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