Ten Terrifying Questions with Jacqueline Harvey!

by |March 21, 2022
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Jacqueline Harvey worked in schools for many years but has had a passion for storytelling since she was a child. She is the author of the popular Alice-Miranda, Clementine Rose and Kensy and Max series, which have sold over one million copies in Australia alone. Her books have received numerous short-listings and awards while her picture book, The Sound of the Sea, was a CBCA Honour Book. Jacqueline speaks to thousands of young people at schools and festivals around the world, and says the characters in her books are often made up of the best bits of children she’s met over the years. While she is not a twin, like Kensy and Max she does have excellent powers of observation and has always thought she’d make a great spy. Jacqueline lives in Sydney and is currently working on more Kensy and Max adventures, and some exciting new projects too.

Today, to celebrate the recent release of her picture book That Cat, Jacqueline Harvey is on the blog to take on our Ten Terrifying Questions! Read on …

Jacqueline Harvey

Jacqueline Harvey (Photo by Jenni Bradley)

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 Fairfield NSW and lived with my parents in a converted garage at my grandparents’ house until I was about two years old. Mum and Dad built their own place in Ingleburn, where we lived until I was nine. I attended Ingleburn Public School and then we moved to Camden where I went to Camden South Public and Camden High School. I didn’t always love school to begin with. One lunchtime when I was in Year 2 (what was I thinking!?) I made a great escape to the shops with a friend. We were planning to buy Curly Wurlys with our tuckshop money. Unfortunately my mother and youngest sister were exiting the exact same shop as we were heading in. Not my finest hour (and absolutely put paid to any further truanting desires!).

I was a student in the ’70s and ’80s when caning was still rife – so I lived in fear a lot of the time, especially as I had a teacher in Year 3 who was an avid fan of corporal punishment. Moving to Camden South in Year 4 changed my life – I went into a class taught by the most wonderful woman on earth. Mrs Hogan played music during class time and made super 8 films with us kids as the stars. She read aloud to us every day and I became enthralled by those books and stories.

I spent my secondary years at Camden High School and while there were still a few teachers I wasn’t fond of (one Maths teacher with a pet goat springs to mind) I mostly enjoyed school and worked hard. When I was 17 my parents sold up and we moved to Wilton (which I thought must have been punishment for something because at the time it felt like it was the middle of nowhere).

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve I was divided between a brain surgeon or a television newsreader, until I realised at about fifteen that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I was still quite keen on being a newsreader but had a crisis of confidence that I wasn’t attractive enough to be on television. At eighteen I wanted to be a primary school teacher and a children’s book author and that dream held fast through thirty.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you don’t have now?

So many! At eighteen I thought I knew it all. I had life mapped out. I truly believed that just because I thought they should, things would fall into place – finish school, get a degree, great job, marry, buy a house, have kids etc etc. Well I know better now. Life has a habit of getting in the way of all those plans and it’s certainly not black and white. There are many different paths – you just have to find the ones that feel right for you.

4. What are three works of art – this could be a book, painting, piece of music, film, etc – that influenced your development as a writer?

In terms of books, it’s more the authors than particular stories that have influenced me. I adored Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and wanted to write the kind of books they did – adventures and mysteries that appealed to a broad audience over a long period of time.

Mozart taught me the art of perseverance as I learned the piano and had to work hard to master many of his more difficult compositions.

I love the paintings of John Constable – those quintessential English scenes have definitely figured in my own work over the years, inspiring numerous settings for stories.

5. Considering the many artistic forms out there, what appeals to you about writing a children’s book?

Children are honest and frank and keen to let you know what they’re thinking. They don’t like being preached at or talked down to – you need to treat them with respect. It’s great to know where you stand with your readers.

Many of the books I read as a child have stayed with me forever. If not the story in detail, the myriad feelings I got when I read them. These books taught me things and took me to places I could only dream of. Books written for children are powerful. I love rediscovering my younger self when I write and it’s a privilege to write for young people.

‘Basically I want readers to have fun with it – to find all of the extra things in the illustrations and to laugh at the silliness.’

6. Please tell us about your latest book!

That Cat is my 49th book and my second ever picture book. It’s a humorous, irreverent look at cats – the story is short (I hope parents and caregivers who are asked to read the same story over and over appreciate that fact!). The idea was inspired by our own tabby, Bally Puss who we met as a visitor cat until his owner sadly passed away and we adopted him (although it was probably more a bequeath really). Like most cats, Bally Puss knows his own mind – he does what he wants when he wants and its common knowledge that cats don’t have masters they have slaves – in this case very true.

When I was coming up with the concept I thought about all the words that rhyme with cat and decided that we could have a lot of fun with the likes of bat cat, mat cat, hat cat and more – giving cats human-like qualities and seeing how that shaped up. Of course the cat we love the best is the one at home in front of the fire or on our laps. It’s incredibly simple but often the best ideas are.

Kate Isobel Scott’s illustrations are wonderful. I knew they would be having watched her draw as a small child and marvelled at her skills. Kate was in my class in Kindergarten and Year 4 and I always thought she would become an artist. When I was thinking about an illustrator for the book, I really wanted it to be her. Kate’s work is quirky and different to anything that’s in the market – I love it. It’s amazing that after all these years we now have the opportunity to work together and there are more books coming.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

That Cat is aimed at a young audience but as with all my books there is something for the grown-ups too. Basically I want readers to have fun with it – to find all of the extra things in the illustrations and to laugh at the silliness.

When it comes to my other series, Alice-Miranda, Clementine Rose and Kensy and Max I want readers to enjoy the stories and feel as if they’ve been on a great adventure (and solved a mystery or two in the process). Given the number of books I’ve written in each of those series now, I know that many fans feel as if they’re genuinely friends with the characters. There have been numerous times that children have told me they were having difficulties and asked themselves, ‘What would Alice-Miranda do?’ To know that the characters have touched readers in this way is incredibly rewarding.

8. Who do you most admire in the writing world and why?

So many authors and illustrators, but in terms of their ability to connect with children I think Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton were incredible. Enid Blyton’s output was extraordinary – and though she was a woman of her time and much of the work is dated now, the adventures still resonate with many young readers. Roald Dahl was completely subversive and I doubt that he would get away with some of the things he wrote today – but he’s the master of the read aloud which is a great skill – to produce something that is buckets of fun to share is a goal I aspire to as well.

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

To keep on writing for the rest of my life (brain and body willing). I want to write the sort of books that entertain, amuse and inspire – with characters readers can relate to. If children learn things from the stories that’s a wonderful consequence but I don’t want to preach – I want to produce quality books that children around the world enjoy reading – and have fun doing it!

10. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t talk about it, do it! In my twenties I wrote stories, poems and plays for the students in my classes and spent a lot of time saying that I wanted to be a children’s author. It was only after my husband asked if I was ever going to do it or just talk about it for the rest of my life that I was spurred into action. It was the perfect question. A challenge of sorts.

I have a friend who is oft heard to say, ‘Don’t die wondering.’ So I decided that I wouldn’t. I’d give it a go and what was the worst thing that could happen? If things didn’t work out, I’d keep on working in schools (which I loved). I’m glad to say that it has worked out but don’t be deceived into thinking it’s easy.

Like most successful writers I know, I’ve worked hard and persevered through many ups and downs. Writing is a bit like riding a rollercoaster – but ultimately having your books out there in the world, knowing that they are being read and enjoyed gives an amazing feeling of satisfaction. It’s important to park your ego at the door. Celebrate the success of others, work hard (I know I’ve said it before but it can’t be stressed enough) and who knows – one day you might be answering these Ten Terrifying Questions too ☺.

Thank you for playing!

That Cat by Jacqueline Harvey (Penguin Books Australia) is out now.

That Catby Jacqueline Harvey & Kate Isobel Scott (Illustrator)

That Cat

by Jacqueline Harvey & Kate Isobel Scott (Illustrator)

An utterly delightful rhyming book, purrfect for the whole family.

Nothing is quite like a cat.

There are brat cats and fat cats, rat cats and mat cats . . . but if there's one cat everyone knows, it's THAT CAT.

Order NowRead More

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