I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with author Wendy Orr . Wait. Scratch that. She lives so many miles away from me that google maps couldn’t configure directions from my place to hers. So, we didn’t get together for coffee, but I did have the honor of e-mailing her some random questions about her life as a writer/author. And she was gracious enough to respond…
Author Bio: Wendy Orr was born in Canada, and grew up in France, Canada and USA. After high school she studied occupational therapy in England, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. They had a son and daughter, and now live on five acres of forest near the sea.
Wendy started writing seriously in 1986, with her picture book Amanda's Dinosaur. In 1993 Leaving it to You was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards, junior readers; Ark in the Park won the same award in 1995 Peeling the Onion a young adult novel based on Wendy’s own car accident, was awarded internationally including the American Library Association Best Book for older readers, and the ALA Best of the Best list: (top 100 books in the past fifty years).
She has written more than 30 books for children, teens and adults, and has been published in 26 countries. In 2008 Nim's Island became a Hollywood feature film starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin and Gerard Butler. The sequel, Nim at Sea, was released as Return to Nim’s Island in 2013, starring Bindi Irwin. Her most recent books in the USA are the Rainbow Street Animal Shelter series.
Q: What gets in the way of your writing? And how do you beat it into submission so that you can continue along your path?
A: Life! Life’s ups and downs affect creative work more than many other jobs – you can push through fatigue or a cold to do routine work, but it’s very difficult to create when not feeling well. Luckily that’s rare for me, but when it happens, I try to manage this by catching up on that routine work until I’m up to par. I’m also sometimes tempted to catch up with friends for coffee etc. instead of working, so I try to balance work with the legitimate need for socialization and leisure by going out one morning a week to a singing group or coffee with a friend. I also think it’s very important that if writing is your job, say, ‘I work from home,’ even before explaining that the job is writing. People tend to believe that writing, especially children’s books, is only done when inspiration strikes, and couldn't possibly take too long – so of course you have time to go to a Tupperware party, run a bake sale, etc. (Of course, like any other full time worker, you can do any of those things, but you do have to prioritize.
Q: In Counseling Magazine (Volume 56 #8) Laurie Meyers talked about “Quieting the inner critic”. How often are you berated by your inner critic? What do you to do silence him/her?
A: Oh, that meano voice! (My editor’s technical term for the inner critic.) One of the hardest things is recognizing that it’s there, that it’s the voice of your doubts and not The Truth. Sometimes I can just ignore it by reminding myself that this is the first/fifth/not quite the final draft and it’s not supposed to be perfect yet. If he’s being exceptionally persistent I sometimes use EFT – emotional freedom tapping – to get my energy up to defeat it. Knowing my own patterns is helpful too: I know that around the time of the copy edit, I read through the manuscript I’ve spent the last 12-18 months writing and know that it’s such terrible crap that it should be burned. Reminding the voice that it always says this at the same point is quite a powerful tool.
Q: Some say writing is equal to breathing –do you feel that way? Or is it more of a hobby that you simply balance with your “real” life?
A: It’s an integral part of me. Most stories live with me for several years before they start to appear on the computer screen or paper; I can’t imagine living without thoughts for stories and characters fermenting in my head.
Q: When did you know you wanted to write? And from where did the first idea come from that sparked your first book?
A: I knew I wanted to write from the time I first learned to read and write in English, the language we used at home – we lived in France so I first learned to read and write in French. I think the experience of reading a proper story in my own language was extremely powerful and I started writing my own ‘books’ immediately. However as an adult I didn’t take it up seriously till I was 32. My first published book was initiated by seeing a competition for a picture book text – I’d never considered picture books before, erroneously believing that you’d have to be or work with an artist. The story itself, Amanda’s Dinosaur was sparked by a friend who had all sorts of pets, and wondering what sort of pet her children could possibly ask for!
Q: Do you have a favorite place to write? If so, where is it and how did it choose you? What is your favorite time of day or day of the week to write?
A: I’m very boring: I like writing at my desk, in my office. And I like to be there working properly by 10, after urgent emails and dog walks, and try to wind up about 4 to walk the dog again, but usually go back for another hour or so later. That’s Monday to Friday, and my rule for weekends is I can write if I really want to, but I prefer to catch up on paperwork, fan mail and questionnaires, etc. – or actually take the time off!
Q: What words of wisdom would you give to a young person who dreams of being a writer/author?
A: Read as much as you can, and as many different genres as you can; write as much you can, listen to criticism but learn to be sure of what you want to say and why. And only do it if you go on loving it!
Q: Is the writing life everything you ever thought it would be? If so, what contributes to that? If not, why not?
A: I didn’t have much of a vision of the writing life, I really just wanted to write and have a book published, with very little awareness of what that would mean in terms of publicity and demands, and of probably an unrealistic expectation of financial rewards. However the life itself has been much more rewarding and exciting than I’d have ever dreamed; it’s taken me to places as diverse as Minneapolis and New Delhi in India, to walk red carpets, and meet truly amazing people around the globe. It still often surprises me that so much can come from these imaginary people that I’ve managed to convince to settle onto a page.
Q: And last but not least: If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
A: I’d love to be a falcon or a wolf, but I suspect I’m a Labrador dog.
Thanks so much for letting me (and my readers) get a glimpse into your life as a writer. I've enjoyed perusing your website, sharing in e-correspondence with you, and I just ordered a copy of Peeling the Onion. I look forward to reading it.
Vickie S Miller