Woman’s Day (Australia)
5 minutes with... PAUL JENNINGS
The master storyteller returns with his most heartfelt novel yet – and it will strike a chord with all readers...
For generations, Aussie children have escaped into the zany worlds created by Paul Jennings.
His classics such as The Gizmo and the Wicked! series have sold millions of copies, while his short story collection inspired the cult TV series Round The Twist.
Decades later, and the English-born author, now 79, is still writing, and his latest, The Lorikeet Tree, is his most “complex” tale to date.
This is your first novel in more than a decade. How did this story come about?
Forty years ago, I tried to write a story about a boy who mistakenly thought his grandfather would die when the tree growing outside his window reached the roof of their house. Over the years I returned to this idea but couldn’t think of a way of resolving the dilemma. In the end, I gave up. And then, at the beginning of the first COVID lockdown, my partner adopted a kitten. One day it brought a tiny, still alive, baby lorikeet home in its mouth. Straight away I knew how to tell this tale.
It’s a big departure for you. Describe the process of writing this book...
I wrote the first chapter with a brief outline of the story and sent it to my editor Julie. She forwarded it to my publisher, who immediately rang me and said, “There is a contract in the mail.” I was very excited about this because
The Lorikeet Tree is the most complex story I have ever attempted. Both Julie and my in-house editor Kate had issues with it – some of the themes were, and are, controversial. I rewrote this book at least a dozen times in response to their prompts. I am incredibly grateful to both for putting so much work into the story. I have always been a heavily edited author.
You’re such an icon in Australian literature. How does it feel to be a huge piece of millions of people’s childhoods?
If I have done no more than make a lot of children laugh and enjoy books, that contribution might possibly be placed on the positive side of the scales. I always smile with pleasure when someone tells me that they loved my stories as a child.
What’s been your favourite book to write?
I can’t choose between The Lorikeet Tree and my first book, Unreal.
Describe an average day in the life of Paul...
I get up and bathe in the sunlight coming through the window. Then I talk with my partner Mary-anne [Fahey] about dreams, love and life. After this, I go outside in my dressing gown with a coffee – and the cat – and walk around the garden. Next, I shower and then write, stopping every 15 minutes or so for a stretch. I often take days off and work in the garden, planting, weeding,
mowing. I take great pleasure in watching things grow. I always have a project that involves physical work.
Do you have any advice for budding writers out there?
Read, read, read. And then try to find your own voice. It’s OK to learn from other authors but you need something that is you and no one else. My editor and former publisher Julie once told me that she could be given the first paragraph of one of my books and immediately know that I had written it. I like to try new voices but I never want to be mistaken for someone else.