Marlene Donovan, author of The Model’s Handbook, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |July 2, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Marlene Donovan

author of The Model’s Handbook

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, of Italian, Spanish, French and English heritage. Our family was forced to leave during the revolution of the 1950’s, so my parents bought a passage to Sydney, Australia on the Orsova’s maiden voyage. We moved to the south-eastern suburbs of Sydney, which were quite bleak and characterless in the 1950’s after living in the colourful and exotic world of a British Colony in the Middle East. When we came to Australia, we were lucky to live fairly close to the beaches in Sydney where I have wonderful memories of summers with family and friends. I went to primary school at St Joseph’s in Beverly Hills and then on to St Ursula’s in Kingsgrove.

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?Marlene_credit Emily Abay 2012 (467 x 600)

When I was 12 I wanted to be a Mouseketeer because I loved watching the Mickey Mouse Club on TV.  When I was 18 I wanted to be a Vet as I have always loved animals. My dream had been to buy the paddock across the road from where I lived and turn it into an animal shelter. I also realised I would have been useless as I couldn’t handle seeing any animal suffer. By the time I reached 30, I had had a successful career as a model but still had strong thoughts about working with animals, I looked into becoming a Zoologist, but I definitely missed my calling.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?

That nothing is black and white; there are so many shades of grey.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

There are no major three events as such, but my sister has twice had an influence in my career. When I was 19 I entered a model competition, which I didn’t win, but was told by so many people that I should model. As I was totally inexperienced and had no idea what to do, I wrote to my sister who was travelling overseas at the time and she advised me to do a model course. In those days it was the best thing to do as the course was run through a model agency.

My sister is a published author and the second time she influenced me was nearly three years ago, when I left my job running a model agency.  She suggested I write a book on what I know and as I know the model industry inside out, The Model’s Handbook concept was created. We are also working on some books together.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

No way! Electronic media is wonderful and provides us with so much access, but it will never be the same as owning books. I couldn’t imagine not having bookshelves with books I have read and return to. I think books will undergo a transition, but they will find their place again. I have also spoken to many young people who love books and can’t get enough of them; many models I know carry books around and read them while waiting on jobs.

6. Please tell us about your latest book The Model’s Handbook

It’s a book on how to be a model: from how to get into the industry as well as how to sustain a successful career in modelling. It covers everything you need to know including life after modelling, the ins and outs, the do’s and don’ts with inside information from industry experts and some amusing anecdotes.

(From the publisher:

So, you want to be a model?

The Model’s Handbookcovers everything you need to know about getting into the industry in Australia and carving out a successful career. With inside information from modelling agents, top models and photographers all over the world, it looks at

  • finding an agent
  • getting set up with a portfolio
  • how to walk a runway
  • the pros and cons of different kinds of modelling work
  • what you can expect on the job day to day
  • ways to stay healthy and happy through the ups and downs of modelling
  • how to manage your career and your money
  • life after modelling
  • and much, much more.

From industry expert, former top model and models’ agent, Marlene Donovan, comes this practical, inspiring guide to making the most of what you’ve got.

‘There is no one better to be giving advice on the pitfalls and do’s and don’ts of the modelling industry.’ Peter Chadwick, former owner/director of Chadwick Model Management )

Click here to order The Model’s Handbook from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Any misconceptions about the modelling industry.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

All the animal rights activists who fight bravely and tirelessly for the wellbeing of all creatures.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I don’t set myself ambitious goals, I take each day as it comes.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Start! It may take a while at first, but just start writing sentences and soon they will become pages.

Marlene, thank you for playing.

Click here to order The Model’s Handbook from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop


So you want to be a model?

I’ve lived and breathed the modelling industry for over thirty years, and have always loved it and the wonderful opportunities it offers. My career as a model began in the seventies; I was fortunate that it was a long and successful one, preparing me well for my subsequent career running Giant Management, one of Melbourne’s top model agencies. I’ve been stimulated, disappointed and frustrated at times, but also richly rewarded by the friends I’ve made and the excitement of travelling to beautiful locations.

Before you go any further, ask yourself why you want to be a model. Is it the glamour, the recognition, the huge amounts of money you imagine you’ll make?

Well, here’s the reality. It isn’t really glamorous – it’s hard work. A fashion model has to model summer clothes in winter, posing at the end of a pier in light summer clothes with an arctic chill whipping around him or her. Holding poses for a long time with the cold creeping into your bones definitely isn’t fun – and no amount of hot drinks and long hot showers seems to thaw you out. You might have to lie on cold, wet sand on a beach in swimwear, waiting for the sun to rise so the photographer can capture the beautiful dawn light, all the while expressing warmth and sensuality. Some models prefer that, however, to modelling winter clothes in summer – wearing heavy layers on a 40°C day, gasping for air, sweat pouring off them, make-up melting down their faces and stinging their eyes. There’s a definite buzz to runway work, television commercials and location shoots, but if you thought it was going to be easy, think again.

As for recognition, well, everyone wants to attain that: I’ve met many girls and boys who want to be supermodels. But take a minute to consider how many models there are in the world. The number who achieve supermodel status is tiny. A successful and fulfilling modelling career may result in very little or no fame at all.

The really big money, too, is made by a few models at the top of the game – though lesser mortals can undoubtedly make a great living if they work hard.

Modelling is a complex, multi-layered and interesting business. You have to be physically fit to handle the taxing demands on your body, and mentally strong enough to handle the regular rejection you’ll face. You can’t let it get you down when someone else lands the job you thought you were perfect for. You must also constantly hone your skills, learn new techniques and reinvent yourself.

So, you still want to be a model? Let’s look briefly at the basic requirements.

Click here to order The Model’s Handbook from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • August 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Its wonderful to have read the model handbook, and to have pored over the pages of a once supermodel, i myself am trying to break through, it is early days yet for me, but the whole abnormalness of modelling and the exquisiteness as well. It is something i really want to do. Thank you for the model handbook!

  • stella salonen

    July 23, 2013 at 1:18 am

    HI Marelene
    Loved your book bought it for my ex husbands daughter Lilliahna Carranza. She got into Chaddies and she was in Sundays age. I am interested in starting a sexy mature age agency. I am working from the Mornington Peninsula. If you want to catch up call me. Cheers Stella.

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