Kyle Mewburn has been writing books for children full-time for more than 20 years.
Her books are laugh-out-loud funny, have been published in over a dozen languages and won numerous awards including Book of the Year (Old Hu-Hu) and Children's Choice (Kiss!Kiss!Yuck!Yuck!; Melu and The House on the Hill). She's also written a few bestselling junior fiction series including Dinosaur Rescue (with illustrator Donovan Bixley) and Dragon Knight. Originally from Brisbane, Kyle lives with her wife, Marion, two cats and 24 chickens, in a house with a grass roof near the sleepy village of Millers Flat. We are very excited that Kyle will be one of our guests for the Ignition Children’s Book Festival 7th-10th November, and has some wonderful ideas for our Book Day on Saturday 9th November.
Kyle popped into the Library recently for a visit, so we took the opportunity to ask her a few questions...
Ed: If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?
Kyle: well, my instinctive reaction is to be a pirate... but I’m not sure about the whole losing eyes and hands thing, so... and I’d probably end up poking my eye out with my hook! Yeah, I’m not really sure what I’d like to be otherwise. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so... I’ve never really given it much thought.
Ed: Did you ever get told off for reading?
Kyle: No, I was quite a secret reader. My father’s never read a book that he didn’t have to. He hasn’t even read my books. And I was hiding, because it was not the done thing. In Australia in the 1960’s when I grew up, to be seen to be clever was actually not a good thing. So I would hide and read. And my family didn’t even know I had four library cards, from all the libraries in the area, because we were only allowed three books out of the library at a time. So I’d got all these library cards and I’d cycle around the libraries after school and pick up more than three books. The librarians couldn’t thwart me! So I never got told off, but my parents probably didn’t know I was reading. I never got a book for Christmas. I got chemistry sets, electronic kits, paint by numbers, that I was terrible at. I can’t paint at all! And they never thought to give me a book.
Ed: What were you like at school?
Kyle: I’ve been writing my life story, and I’ve been doing some research on myself. I was quiet, but I got in a lot of fights, because we’d play Red Rover, which is called Bullrush here, and someone would grab my shirt and pull the button off, and we were quite a poor family, so I would just have to go and get my revenge. I was just so angry. So I fought a lot, but generally I was quiet, and people didn’t expect me to be quite as clever, because I was hiding my cleverness. But I was really embarrassed the other day, because I looked at my old report cards, and I had ‘self-control’ as a C-Minus,. ‘can do better’. And for English my teacher said ‘technically good writing, but lacking in imagination’. I thought ‘What? How dare you!’
Ed: What was the first ever story that you remember writing?
Kyle: Obviously I was lacking in imagination when I was at primary school, but I do remember the only story that really stands out. I used get told off all the time for my writing. My teacher would say ‘this looks like a cockroach ran in some ink and crawled across the page!’ But she would always say ‘This is very good... I think.’ But the earliest story I actually remember writing was supposed to be non-fiction, and the theme was ‘land means different things to different people.’ And I just thought ‘how boring! And I was sitting in the class thinking, ‘what am I going to say?’ And then a mosquito came and landed on my page. So I squashed it, and there’s a big bloody mosquito, blood splattered everywhere. So I drew a circle around it and an arrow, and wrote ‘land means different things to different people. This is a mosquito. He shouldn’t have landed there.’ And then I took off about the moon landing, and I was off. Take that ‘no imagination’!
Ed: How did you feel when you saw your first book in print?
Kyle: My first book in print took a long time, about a year between writing it and I’d sent it in and then started writing my next book. And about a year later my first book came in the mail, and I just fell in love and carried it around with me and showed everyone – ‘that’s me! Look!’ That was in 2004 – The Hoppleplop. So many kids have since said it’s their favourite book, so my illustrator and I decided to reproduce it and bring it out again.
Ed: Do you have a ritual that you follow to get in the mood for writing? So, have you got a lucky pen, or lucky pants, or lucky breakfast or something?
Kyle: No, I don’t like rituals. I don’t like routines. The best thing about being a writer is I don’t set the alarm. I hate alarm clocks. Basically I get up between 6.30am to 8am, make coffee, go to my desk, sit down, look at what I’m writing on my computer, and then go from there. It’s the first thing I do in the morning, go straight up to writing. My office is at the top of the house and I’m surrounded by my books. When I first started writing, I was writing for 8-hour days, and sitting there from 8 until 4. But now my brain has turned to custard, I do need my afternoon nap. My wife doesn’t get up until about 10 or so, and she makes teapots, so she’s got her different routine. I usually write until my wife gets up, then we have coffee together, and then I go back to writing until 1 or 2 o’clock, when I usually go and do the garden or build something, or do something other than writing. My stories take longer nowadays, but they’re better!
Ed: So, of all your characters, which one would you most like to hang out with?
Kyle: It’s an interesting question, because Melu is actually me. It’s my life story. So, it’s a metaphorical life story about going against the grain and not fitting in. I’ve liked all my characters. I like characters who have big hearts, and they’re all looking for something, and I think they’re all people you’d want to hang out with.
Ed: And my last question for you, Kyle, is what are you reading right now?
Kyle: I’ve just started The Phantom Tollbooth again for the 64th time, or something. Well, not really. I do it every couple of years or so, and sometimes I read the whole thing, and sometimes I browse and pick out little things. When I was growing up I liked puns and word games, and my teacher gave me his own copy of The Phantom Tollbooth to read, and this was the first book that I felt it was my book, that it was actually written for me. It said puns are great, wordplay’s great, celebrate it!