Barry Jonsberg's young adult novels, The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull and It's Not All About YOU, Calma! were short-listed for the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year, Older Readers, awards. It’s Not All About YOU, Calma! also won the Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature, Dreamrider was short-listed in the NSW Premier’s Awards for the Ethel Turner prize and Cassie (Girlfriend Fiction) was short-listed for the Children's Peace Literature Award. Being Here won the QLD Premier’s Young Adult Book Award 2011 and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Award 2012.
Barry lives in Darwin with his wife, children and two dogs. His books have been published in the US, the UK, France, Poland, Germany and China.
When did you start writing?
I never really found time for writing when I lived in England. Maybe it’s something to do with the air in Australia, but I started writing in 2001 after I moved to Darwin. I finished a novel called Nativity which interested Allen & Unwin, but was not publishable in its original form. In the meantime, I had started The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, in which I developed a minor character from Nativity. This was published in 2004 and, since then, I have completed nine books for Young Adults and younger readers. So it took me a long time to start writing but now I can’t seem to stop, even though my publishers beg me to!
Which writers do you admire?
I admire all writers because I know the hard work and dedication required to finish a book. But I am always immensely impressed with the rich array of Australian talent within the Young Adult field. I’m not sure if many people know this, but we are the envy of the world as far as new and exciting Young Adult fiction is concerned. Think of writers like John Marsden, Sonia Hartnett, Phil Gwynne, Ursula Dubosarsky, Michael Bauer, Margo Lanagan, Markus Zusak, Garth Nix… the list goes on and on.
How do you make up your stories?
The American horror writer, Stephen King, once said that stories are always ‘found’ by writers, not made up. I understand this, because most of my stories come from very small beginnings – an image, a sentence I like, a place I visited. For example, one of my new books, The Dog That Dumped On My Doona, started because I had an opening sentence running through my head for no apparent reason. That sentence was, “I woke up to find a dog having a dump on my doona.” I had no idea where I was going with this, or if I was going anywhere at all. But I followed the idea to see where it would take me. As it turned out it took me to a strange place that I couldn’t have ‘made up’ by just thinking about it. I ‘found’ the story, almost as if it had been there all along waiting to be discovered.
When you're not writing, what do you do?
I teach a couple of days a week. And then there are festivals around the country and school visits… For relaxation I do the normal things – watch films, read (and then read some more), walk the dogs on the beach with my wife, cook, tell my children to tidy their rooms, open up the odd bottle of wine. I’m good at relaxing and I’m also a firm believer that one should stick to what one is good at.
Where do you do your writing?
I really believe that the writing space is extremely important. I have a study with a steam-driven computer. I shut the door, put a CD in the computer, stick the headphones on and then write (I’m doing exactly that at this moment). For some reason, I play the same CD on a loop until I have finished a book which means I get to hear it hundreds and hundreds of times. It’s become a routine that I don’t like to change. The music blocks everything out and allows me to focus on what is happening with the words on the screen. My study is cluttered and messy, like my head, so I feel comfortable there.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
The best thing, by far, is getting lost in whatever world I have created. It is an amazing feeling to be in a place that doesn’t exist until you put down the words that bring it into existence. I also love meeting my readers and hanging out with writers whose work I have always admired. Some of these people are now my friends!
Probably the worst part is the isolation of writing. There is no short cut. You have to spend hundreds of hours getting the story down, one word at a time. And sometimes those words don’t do what you want them to do. But overall, I think being a writer is just about the best job in the world.