One of the loveliest aspects of my writing life is the friends I have made along the way. This week it’s my pleasure to introduce long-time friend Sally Murphy, who recently celebrated the release of her latest book for young readers, Worse Things, an inspirational story about the things that bind us all.
Sally is a children’s author, poet, book reviewer, academic, and beach walker. Her 52 published books include verse novels, junior fiction, picture books, historical fiction , poetry and educational titles. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found near water, or hanging out with her family – or at her day job, at a university.
To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her author website: www.sallymurphy.com.au
Why do you write? That is a BIG question. I write because I have to – it’s like breathing to me. Stories and poems and words come to me demanding to be put down – and then reworked and reworked of course. But I also write because there are stories, sometimes, that I feel only I can tell and because I love to think I am making some small difference in the world through telling those stories.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Persistence. It took me many years to get my first acceptance, and I still get more rejections than acceptances. Many of my manuscripts have never found the right home – and never will – and that can hurt when it happens. But a rejected manuscript is still proof that I am writing and creating, and everything I write makes me a better writer, whether it’s published or not. So I just keep writing, and studying the craft of writing and writing some more.
You write poetry, picture books, junior fiction series and verse novels. Was it your intention to find different markets for your creative output or did it evolve naturally as an expression of who you are? Mostly I just write the thing that comes to me and then figure out what it is. I think that having a range has helped me to keep getting published, and to find different outlets for my work, but I also know it can make me hard to classify. I have fallen into some forms of writing – for example, I didn’t see myself writing historical fiction until I stumbled across a story that fascinated me, and had to follow it. That led to my first historical picture book, Do Not Forget Australia. Once that was published, I realised that I loved researching history and crafting stories. My three subsequent historical stories were all ones publishers approached me to write, because they knew I wrote historical fiction.
How do you approach a new writing project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Process? I’m supposed to have a process? Just kidding! I know some people are very good at plotting and planning, but I have to confess I’m generally not. Usually an idea just comes to me, half formed – maybe just a character, or a snippet of an idea. I try to note things down, and then just see what happens. If it has wings, it will niggle away at me, and random ideas will come to me over weeks or even months until suddenly I realise there is a story there and I start writing. Usually by this stage I have some idea where the story might be heading, but not the finer details. These evolve during the first draft, and then, once I have a draft down the hard work involves reworking and remolding, often adding strands and characters and detail. It’s a little different when I write historical fiction, which usually starts with a real event that I want to write about, followed by LOTS of research until I find a way in to telling it.
How has teaching influenced you as an author? Firstly, it is because I’m a teacher that my first ever book acceptance came about. I had been trying for years to get fiction and poetry published, when I stumbled across an educational publisher looking for proposals for classroom resources books. I sent in a proposal and it was accepted. I went on to write several more books for that publisher (Ready Ed Publications) and they are still in print, over 20 years later. Having that first acceptance gave me the courage to keep writing and submitting. I’ve also had lots of other titles published for the educational market.
Having said that, when I write fiction and poetry I try not to wear my teacher hat. I want my work to reach readers first and foremost as readers rather than as students.
What are you working on at the moment? A few things. Some research for a possible historical, and an idea for a new verse novel which hit me last week and won’t leave me alone. I also have two junior novels to revise, one a verse novel and one prose. They both need a lot of work.
What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Hope. I want a reader to finish my story smiling – even if it has been a sad or challenging story. I always work to leave them with some sense of hope, that things can be better.
Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Description. I have something called aphantasia – although I didn’t know it had a name till a few years ago. This means that I don’t imagine in pictures – except when I’m asleep. So, when I try to imagine what a scene looks like, I draw a blank. I can tell you what it feels like, sounds like etc, but not the visuals. So I really have to work on visual description. Interestingly, I know of several other writers with the same condition.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Getting published and thus seeing my books in the hands (and hearts) of readers.
—the worst? Rejection.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Believe in myself more. Even after 50 books I still feel like a fraud.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? The importance of a good editor.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Be yourself – as an individual and as a writer, you need to do what is true to who you are.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read. A lot.
How important is social media to you as an author? Very. I have lived in rural areas for most of my writing career and now divide myself between Perth and the South West. Social media allows me to share my writing and my writing life far and wide, and to interact with readers.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever run out of ideas, but I do struggle to write at times of crisis in my life. I used to try to force it, but now I am kinder to myself. Instead of setting word targets, I sometimes know I have to just let myself do other things. Recently, with Covid 19 and a death in my family, I found myself taking long beach walks, and doing a lot of gardening. And then, because I’d just left it, a story idea came along and bit me on the nose.
How do you deal with rejection? I can be angry or feel hurt – rejections aren’t personal, but they feel like they are. But rationally, I know that publishers actually want what I do – to publish good books. SO if my book isn’t right for a publisher, it either needs revising, or it needs to be on a different desk – or a combination of both. I try to take a step back from the manuscript, look at with fresh eyes, and decide which of those things is needed.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Eclectic. Emotional. Effervescent.
Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Light relief? I’m claustrophobic, so being stuck in a lift is almost my worst nightmare. So, I would choose my husband, because he is very steady.
Illustrated by Sarah Davis
After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport. A touching and inspirational story about the things that bind us all.
Publisher’s Webpage: https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Worse-Things-9781760651657
Sales site: https://www.booktopia.com.au/worse-things-sally-murphy/book/9781760651657.html (or any other online bookshop you want to link to)