Chronicles of John
is no doubt that John Marsden's resume would be a document to behold.
He has written thirty-five books, including the popular Tomorrow Series,
he is Australia's best-selling author for teenagers and has won numerous
literary awards. He is also a teacher, an influence on the careers of
many authors and has a reputation as an educational visionary.
John opened a school, teaching prep to Year 7, on his property near Melbourne,
where he is both the school's principal and a full-time teacher. With
the release of the final installment in the Ellie Chronicles, Circle of
Flight, John took time out from his busy schedule to chat with Karin
Your first novel
was published almost twenty years ago after having worked in a variety
of jobs. When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer?
Grade 4, when I was nine years old I suppose. We had a class newspaper
and I found it very exhilarating to write things and get them published
in the class newspaper so that was when I first realised the power of
writing I suppose. And then I started to think I'd like to be an author
and just became aware of that whole process.
Tell me about
Candlebark, the school you opened on your property earlier this year.
Well, it's the most exciting thing I've ever done I suppose. It's just
great. I really wanted to test all the theories I had about education
… and it just seemed to click from the first day. And I guess more
than anything I wanted to prove that if you treated children well and
courteously and decently then you really wouldn't have any problems with
them and, more than that, if you provided a really enriching and exciting
curriculum and great teachers you'd just be blazing away at record speed.
That's how it's pretty much been.
If you could change
one thing about the Australian education system what would it be?
Space. I think what I'd do is close down all the golf courses and convert
them into schools so that each school has about five acres; if you've
got a 1,000 kids, five acres is kind of a minimum. Schools are so crowded
that's there's constant tensions and conflicts and people just running
into each other, literally and metaphorically. They crowd each other,
they jostle each other, they get in each other's way, they annoy each
other. And here, [at Candlebark] to see them running around with heaps
of space, it's amazing because it produces straightaway an atmosphere
of good will and diffuses all of those tense situations.
Circle of Flight
is the last book in The Ellie Chronicles. Is this the last we'll see of
Ellie and her friends?
Yeah, absolutely. Postively, Definitely. I love writing about her but
there comes a time when you've got to move on.
When you sat down
to write an episode in The Tomorrow Series or The Ellie Chronicles what
did you do to get inside the head of Ellie?
I never had a problem doing that. I think once I get the voice of a character
I can stay in that voice as long as I need to. Getting the voice can take
months or years and that’s just a mental game or a brain thing where
somehow I have to be able to take on the language of the character and
once I've done that I feel I've captured the essence of the person. And
that can happen quite suddenly or it can be fairly difficult. In the case
of Ellie it happened quite suddenly but after the idea being in my mind
for many years. Gradually she evolved and one day she started talking
and at that moment I started writing.
What has been
the highlight of your career so far?
Opening the school for sure.
has your writing process changed since you first began writing?
I feel I write much more tightly now; I'm much more aware of language.
I use language much better than I did in my first novels. The process
I don’t think has changed, I've just learnt heaps. Stuff that used
to be intuitive I'm now more consciously aware of. And I use a computer
What are you reading
at the moment?
Heaps of stuff. Rereading Summerhill by AS Neill which is a seminal text
about alternative education. The other day I finished that Booker listed
one by Hyland. It's great; what a writer. It's only her second novel;
I'm just getting the total of it. It's disturbing; it's not a comfortable
read. The authenticity of it was beyond question. Carry Me Down it was
called. The other one I've started reading is sort of outside my normal
genre, it's called Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver, a fantasy for adolescents.
It's really good; it's really poetic and quite rich, so far.
You've been shortlisted
for this year's Melbourne Prize for Literature however you're not interested
in awards. In the event that you win will it cause you any conflict to
accept the prize?
I'm interested in this one. There's only been a couple of awards in my
life that I've really cared about and this is one of them because it's
for a body of work, it's not just for one book. By the same token this
award I got the other day, the Lloyd O'Neil award, was equally meaningful
for me because it wasn't for the one book it was for a whole lot of stuff.
[The Melbourne Prize
for Literature, announced on November 15, went to Helen Garner.]
Are you working
on a new book currently?
Yeah, I'm playing around with something I started about six or eight years
ago and I just revisit it occasionally between books and write a bit more
and I really like it. I'm really enjoying it and I'm really having fun
with it. I'll keep doing that but in a much less intense way than I usually
do because there just isn't time. Maybe at Christmas I'll give it a decent
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