Emily Rodda grew up with her two younger brothers on Sydney’s North Shore and graduated from the University of Sydney in 1973 with an MA (Hons) in English Literature. Always an avid reader, she moved naturally into a career in publishing, first as a book editor, and finally as a publisher at Angus & Robertson.
Emily Rodda’s first book, Something Special, was published in 1984. It marked the beginning of a career that has seen her become one of the most successful, prolific and versatile writers in Australia. She has written or co-authored well over fifty books for children, and as Jennifer Rowe (her real name) she writes popular mystery novels for adults. Her children’s books range from picture books to YA novels, and include the award-winning Rowan series and the outstandingly successful Deltora Quest fantasy series. Winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year (Younger Readers) Award a record five times, she seems to know instinctively what children want to read.
She has been a full-time writer since 1994. “I feel very lucky to have a job I love so much,” she says. Her four children, including twin boys, have given her plenty of inspiration over the years. “None of the characters in my books are exactly like anyone I know, but all of them have things in common with people I know. Everyone writes from his or her own experience. I look at people I know and listen to them and when I am trying to think of a new character, these things come back to me.”
All Emily Rodda’s books are testament to her exception storytelling ability. She describes the Rowan books, which combine a classic quest storyline with a series of riddling mysteries to be solved, as being “the most pleasurable to write”. Other books, like Dog Tales, which looks at the lives of a gang of neighbourhood dogs, demonstrate her wonderful talent for comedy. Her plots are always beautifully crafted. “I love things that all tie up… There’s no little clue that doesn’t have a meaning and I suppose it’s the fascination for someone who likes word games or likes doing tapestry… maybe it’s a response to the general messiness of life, but I find it very satisfying.”
And important influence on her writing was the world of the media. Her father was a TV executive, and she grew up with “the ratings” and a great respect for the demands of the marketplace. She acknowledges the need for escapist books as well as those that are more literary.
In 1995 Emily Rodda won the prestigious Dromkeen Medal. The judges of the award said of her that she “maintains a prolific writing schedule, continues to provide a role model in promoting children’s literature, and still spends many hours sharing her love of books with children and educators”.
Why did you become a writer?
I have always loved reading and writing stories. English was my favourite subject at school, and at home I often wrote plays for my brothers to act out. But as I grew older I decided that I wasn’t very good at writing, and stopped. Then I began telling stories to my own children and remembered how much I’d enjoyed writing. I tried a story or two, found that others liked them, and soon writing had become my favourite hobby all over again.
Where do you get your ideas from?
It’s hard to explain where my ideas come from. Usually it starts when I’m just thinking about something quite ordinary. By asking myself “What if this happened...?” I get my imagination going. In this way a story can be made out of the most everyday situations. I always carry a notebook around with me and scribble down every idea that comes to me—ideas for characters, plots, or mystery clues, for example. That way, if I’m stuck for an idea later, chances are I’ll find something in my notebook to help.
Where did you get your ideas for Deltora Quest?
It wasn’t hard to think of ideas for the Deltora Quest series—in fact the hardest thing was sticking to the word limit! I loved writing this series because I could really let my imagination go wild.
Do you base your characters on real people?
None of the characters in my books are exactly like anyone I know, but all of them have things in common with people I know. Everyone writes from his or her own experience. I look at people I know and listen to them and when I am trying to think of a new character, those things come back to me.
Why do you have another name?
My real name is actually Jennifer Rowe. When I finished my first book, Something Special, I sent it to the publishing company where I worked as an editor. I put my grandmother’s name, Emily Rodda, on the manuscript. I was a bit shy about my writing and wanted to get an honest opinion about the book from the other editors in the office. Then Something Special was published, and won the Australian Children’s Book of the Year Award. The name Emily Rodda got quite a bit of publicity, so now I use it for all my children’s books, and use Jennifer Rowe for my adult books. I don’t find it confusing—it’s a bit like having a nickname.
What are your hobbies?
Ever since I can remember, reading and writing have been my favourite hobbies. These days I don’t have a lot of time, but even so I might read up to three books a week—depending on how long they are, of course!
Do you have any children? Do you have any pets?
I am married with four children, and live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. We have a dog called Sunny. And because we live next to the bush, the garden is always full of frogs, lizards, magpies, cockatoos and kookaburras.
Which of your books is your favourite?
My books are all special to me in different ways. Choosing my favourite would be as difficult as choosing a favourite among my children.
Can you give me some tips for my writing?
Just keep practising. It helps to write about the kinds of people and places you know. Pretend you are really living in the story. Describe how you feel, what you see, what you hear, so that the readers can feel they’re inside the world of the story too. Reading also helps, but the more you develop your own style, the better your writing will be. And most of all, enjoy yourself!
Will there be a film made of Deltora Quest?
There are no plans for a feature film at the moment, but a Japanese anime TV series has been produced. It is shown on ABC TV in Australia.
How long did it take to write Deltora Quest?
It took about three months to write each book. But for a least two years before that I had been thinking about the whole series: making notes about the characters and the world of Deltora, planning the stories, and working on the brainteasers and puzzles I wanted to use in the books.