Artshub - Ursula Dubosarsky: Sydney Writers Festival
Ursula Dubosarsky is a multi-award winning writer for children and young adults. She is the author of picture books (most recently The Terrible Plop, illustrated by Andrew Joyner), books for younger readers (The Strange Adventures of Isador Brown) and books for older readers (The First Book of Samuel, Theodora’s Gift and The Red Shoe - all major prize winners). She is regarded as one of the most talented writers in Australia, and says of her work, "Storytelling is as natural, as vital maybe, as breathing ... Whenever I do creative writing workshops with children, there's a tumbling need for each child to tell a story."
Ursula is appearing as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2009 and has taken a moment to answer the ArtsHub Career Profile.
At what point did you decide you wanted to work with words?
Well, work is a funny word – but I wanted to be a writer from when I was six years old – which is when I learnt to read, so realized there was such a thing as a writer.
How would you describe your job to a complete stranger?
I sit in a room and make up stories for children in my head, which I then try to write down on paper. Then I look for someone who will put those words into a book for me that can be sold in a shop. That’s how I would describe it to children anyway.
What's your background - are there degrees that prepare you for this?
I’ve got a Bachelor of Arts with honours in English literature – and I’ve now got a PhD in English literature as well. When I was first at uni there weren’t any creative writing degrees, or even writing courses within degrees, so I don’t know if such courses would help or not. Most writers will tell you that they spend most of their time reading, which is probably the best preparation. And you certainly read a lot of books at university.
What's the first thing career related you usually do each day?
Oh, plug myself into a machine and look at emails I guess. I work from home of course, and so the distinction between home and work is very blurry.
Can you describe an "average" working day for you?
Yes, “average” vs “ideal.” Ideally I’d like to write for a couple of hours on a new project and then spend the rest of the day living my private life. On average, though, both the demands of private life and then the more business-like demands of being a children’s writer take over. Children’s writers do quite a lot of school visiting, competition judging, mentoring and that sort of thing which is very worthwhile and usually paid, but it can certainly eat up your time and rearrange your “ideal” plans. Pursuing all the various avenues to promote your work, a lot of which is DIY, can also be extremely time-consuming. And usually I’m not working on one project alone, but two or three, which are at different stages of the whole process. So I may need to be talking with editors, revising and rewriting. And all the time I’m trying to create something new, which is naturally where most of your interest lies.
What's the one thing - piece of equipment, toy, security blanket – that you can't be creative without?
Nothing. Of course you need something to write on or with, but I’m not that fussy. I’ll use whatever’s available. I prefer to be in room with sunlight, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve written books in all sorts of places under all sorts of conditions. Even noise doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s got nothing to do with me. You just need to be left alone. Once you’re inside your mind you can be anywhere.
What gets you fired up?
A new idea for a book or story is enormously exciting. It fills your mind and makes you feel hopeful and expansive.
What's the best thing about your job?
The act of creating something is the most rewarding thing in itself. The other rewards are much more complicated - by which I mean the process of publishing, editing, promotion and selling of your work and all that sort of thing.
What’s the worst?
Isolation of various kinds…And then, ironically, desperately trying to find that free space in your head to write what you want to write, which gets more difficult the more successful you are.
What are the top three skills you need in this game?
Skills I guess are different to talents! Is doggedness a skill? Patience. Probably you need more killer instinct than I may have. Are these skills though? Or temperaments. Hmm.
What advice would you give a young writer looking to break into the field?
Well, I think finishing what you’re working on is the best advice, before trying to interest other people in it. It’s hard to make other people (i.e. publishers or agents) interested in something unfinished – after all, they don’t know if you actually can finish it. Also personally I never really know what something is until it’s finished. Of course, knowing when something IS finished is yet another skill.
When do you know you’ve made it?
I suppose you notice other people telling you that you have. But there are so many kinds of having “made it”. It could be critical reputation, winning prizes, selling in great numbers, getting great advances - or finally managing to write that one book that you feel you were somehow born to write. Probably most writers never really think they’ve made it. There’s always something eluding them…
Ursula Dubosarsky is running the CBCA Writing Masterclass as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2009.
Published in Artshub on May 12, 2009.