Jacqueline Harvey, author of Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jacqueline Harvey

author of Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor and The Alice-Miranda Series

Six Sharp Questions

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1.    Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor sees the launch of a whole set of new characters; who I completely adore.  Clemmie, as she’s affectionately known has some lovely quirks.  She recites poems that Uncle Digby, the family butler (but more like a beloved great uncle) teaches her and she can frequently be found performing for her grandparents (well, at least their portraits on the wall).  Clementine has a penchant for fashion and an unfortunate way of getting into trouble despite the best of intentions.  She also has a very sweet tea cup pig called Lavender.  When her scary great aunt Violet arrives unexpectedly, the household is thrown into disarray. What is it that Aunt Violet really wants and what is she carrying in her mysterious black bag?

This book is the start of a new series and there will be some interaction between these characters and the characters in the Alice-Miranda series.  Clementine lives in a village called Penberthy Floss and avid readers of Alice-Miranda will know that name from the second Alice-Miranda adventure, when she goes home for the holidays.  Clementine will also attend Ellery Prep School, where Alice-Miranda went before she took herself off to boarding school.  One of Clemmie’s best friends is Poppy Bauer who lives on the farm at Alice-Miranda’s parent’s property, Highton Hall.  I’m looking forward to writing Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose’s first meeting, which I anticipate happening in Clemmie’s fourth book and Alice-Miranda’s eighth. Click here to buy Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor.

2.    Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

This year has been an extraordinary one as I took four months leave from my full time job and travelled, first in Australia promoting Alice-Miranda and then to the United States and United Kingdom, where I worked in 37 schools and met thousands of students.  I have been fortunate to secure contracts for the Alice-Miranda series in the US and UK (and translation rights in Indonesia and Turkey) and Clementine Rose will also be published in the UK too.  Having the opportunity to travel and write and meeting amazing people has been an obvious highlight of the year.  When we were in the UK we stumbled upon the derelict mansion that I’ve used as inspiration for Caledonia Manor in the Alice-Miranda series.  It was definitely one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ moments as I had no idea where the house was, other than somewhere in Shropshire – which is a fairly large county with an abundance of derelict mansions.  We were ultimately able to look through all 100 rooms of the house and tour the grounds as well.  We were there four times and it really felt like there was a very strange connection between us and the house.  We then spent a week in Paris on the way home which was fantastic as I’m currently writing Alice-Miranda in Paris.  I blogged about the trip at http://jacquelineharvey.blogspot.com

It was a wonderful surprise to return home and find that Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor has been included in the Get Reading Program for 2012.  I’m so grateful for the momentum of the Alice-Miranda series and the opportunity to continue writing her books and now Clementine Rose as well.

3.    Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

It’s really a quote that I’ve stolen from a very good friend of mine who is oft heard to say, ‘don’t waste a minute,’ and I suppose it’s become a bit of a mantra of mine too.  Life is short and you really don’t want to wake up in ten or twenty years’ time and wonder why you didn’t give something a go or why you wasted time on something that you didn’t love doing.  It’s not about filling every moment of your day, but it’s about deciding what’s important to you and making sure that you focus on those things and do what makes you feel happiest and most fulfilled.  To that end I’ve recently made the big decision to become a full time writer and speaker, giving up my job as Director of Development at Abbotsleigh at the end of October.  I adore working at the school and have been there for over 11 years but after touring the US and UK and meeting loads of kids and visiting many schools, I realised that this is what I really want to do.  It has taken a long time to get to the point that I could contemplate writing as a full time career, and I feel so fortunate that I can take that path now – I’m not going to miss a minute and fully intend to make the most of every opportunity.

4.    Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I don’t think I conform to the stereotype at all – well most of the time anyway.  Up until now my writing life has always happened in the evenings, on weekends and in break times.  When I’m working on a book, I tend to be extremely focused.  I like to write away from home if I can, so for the past couple of years my husband and I have gone to Port Macquarie, where we stay in an apartment overlooking the ocean.  I usually settle to a routine fairly quickly and if I’m distracted or stuck, I can go for a walk and get some sea air.  It seems to help.  When I’m in the zone I can write for hours and hours at a time and I definitely get caught up in the emotion of it all.  There are often tears and laughter and I love the feeling of being completely consumed by the writing.  I suppose there are times that I live a little through my characters – and that could be a somewhat strange thing.  My husband will invariably catch me when I’m reading aloud and using all the different voices, or laughing because for one moment I thought I was terribly funny.  But he keeps me grounded!

5.   Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

I think ultimately all writers want to be read and certainly commercial success makes it easier to contemplate having a career in writing. I’m happiest with my writing when I’m completely in love with the characters and the stories.  Clementine Rose, like my previous character Alice-Miranda, is great to write because I adore her and I think that when you treasure your characters and really care about them, then hopefully that will be apparent to the readers too.  With the Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series’ I wanted to write stories that I know I would have loved as a child; with adventure, empowered kids, lots of food and some mysteries to unravel.  I don’t think I was looking for a gap in the market but I feel really fortunate that the books have been well received and children seem to connect with them.

6.   Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

That’s a tricky question as there are so many amazing books.  I think I’d take The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, because I could help the students understand the power of language in the context of world war – and I wrote a really in-depth unit on the book a few years ago for the Quality Teacher Project so I know it well; The Bible, because no matter what you believe, there are so many universal stories played out and it would certainly allow for some interesting discussions on ethics, morality and belief systems;  To Kill A Mockingbird, because Atticus Finch is a man to admire and in that story there is a lot to talk about; a new book, that I read recently and loved called Wonder by RJ Palaccio, because Auggie is going to teach lots of kids about compassion and understanding and the not even yet thought about, Big Book of Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda, because every day we’d need to be reminded of the power of positive thinking, the importance of friendship and the fun that can be had when there’s a mystery to be solved and a Devil’s Food cake to be consumed.

Jacqueline, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

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