Steven Herrick - Frequently Asked Questions

I get lots of emails asking me particular questions about my work. So, I've taken the time below to answer as many possible questions as I can think of. I hope this helps. If you have specific questions that are not answered below, then email me, and I'll add your question (and my answer!) to the list.

If you want to focus on the simple gift go to:-


For by the river Teacher Notes go to:

Question & Answer

When did you start writing?
I was eighteen and travelling around the country. One night I decided to write a poem for something to do. It was about how "love is like a gobstopper". When I returned to my Mum's house, I typed it up, sent it off to a poetry magazine, and they published it and sent me $5.  I thought, "Wow. Money for poetry!!!  From then on, I read lots of poetry, all types, and decided that's what I wanted to be - a poet.

Did you read a lot when you were young?
Yes, but not that many books. Mainly soccer magazines from overseas. It wasn't until I was fourteen when I started to read novels. Then I read everything I could get my hands on - although I still enjoyed those silly sports magazines…

What were the important experiences in your life?
Let me answer that, in two ways.
Firstly, the simple answer to that question is meeting my partner, Cathie, and our relationship with each other and our two children, Jack and Joe, are the pivotal experiences of my life. They mean everything to me.
Secondly, as a writer, I'm not sure you can classify particular experiences as being important, and other experiences as being of less importance. When I look back on the initial experience that lead to me writing particular books, I can see that, at the time, I had no idea that these experiences would be so important that I'd write about them ten or twenty years later. Maybe that's what writers do - they take everyday, "unimportant  events and make worthwhile, interesting stories or poems out of them.

Where do you get your ideas?
For my verse-novels, my starting point is often a particular location I'm familiar with. A physical place I want my characters to inhabit.
In "the simple gift" - it's the disused train carriage in a country town. In "by the river" - it's the place where I grew up in Queensland. In "The spangled drongo" - it's our house in the Blue Mountains.
Once I have a location, I feel comfortable "dropping in  my characters. And I take the story from there.

How do you go about writing?
I don't have a set routine. Usually, I write from nine in the morning until midday. Then I have lunch and take a long walk. In the afternoon, I may edit the morning writing, or I may do something relaxing like kayaking, play golf with my son Joe, or just sit on the back deck with my wife. I write a book every year using this method and see little reason to change it now. I must say I never feel stressed about my writing. I think I'm fairly organized and I tend to be at least a year ahead of schedule.

Why do you like writing?
A thousand reasons - some important, some trivial. I like being able to create a story purely out of my imagination mixed in with my life experiences. I like being able to create characters that I hope are interesting and believable.
I enjoy not having a boss and I love working out of my home and being able to write when I feel like it. I love the fact that my writing gets me invited to lots of places around Australia and the world.
Most of all, I love it that somebody has taken the time out of their life to get to know, and hopefully enjoy, one of my books.

Where do you do your writing?
At my desk in our lounge room. Unlike many writers, I don't have a room or a studio to work in. Our house is too small for that. And even though I could afford to build a studio in our back yard, I'll never do it. I like the fact that I share my desk with my family.
The actual desk I write on means so much to me because my Mum gave it to me when I told her I wanted to be a writer at eighteen. The next day, Mum went out and bought the desk and I've written every book on it since that day nearly thirty years ago.  Mum died recently, aged 88, and I feel closer to her when I'm sitting at my desk. It reminds me of the faith she had in her youngest son, all those years ago.

What is your favourite book by someone else?
I have two…
"Blue Highways  by William Least Heat-Moon - the best travel book ever written!
"The Grapes of Wrath  by John Steinbeck - a classic, of course. For me, the prototype of what great writing can do within a society. It can influence, and change, people's view of the world.

What are your favourite books for young people?
I've been shortlisted for CBCA Book of the Year six times. I read some of the books shortlisted with me - you know, to see what my book is up against…
And everytime I do this, I find so many wonderful books for children and young adults - the standard is always so extraordinarily high. I loved "A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove" by James Moloney (winner in 1997), and "The Running Man" by Michael Gerard Bauer (winner in 2005), to name just two recent examples.

How do you go about getting a book published?
I read somewhere that one in one hundred manuscripts received by publishers ever gets published so you have to be lucky to begin with. But, maybe it's a little like the Lottery - you have to be in it to win. So send your manuscript off to publishers and see what happens. If it's rejected, send it to another publisher.
Be realistic though - get as much professional advice as you can. Join a writing course at a University, or join a local writer's group. Contact your local Writers' Centre - they'll be running workshops - take them.

Are you writing a book at the moment?
I'm always writing a new book! At present, I'm editing the final draft (at least I hope it's the final draft) to a verse-novel for YA called "Wolf  - it's about two families who live on isolated farms and their search for the mythical wolf.
The other book is a verse-novel for adults (or YA - I'm not sure yet!) about a 16-year old boy who lives in a small coal town and a murder that occurs in that town.
These two books are the final two parts to a loose trilogy based on country-town Australia that began with "by the river" in 2004.

Do you ever model any of your characters on family or friends?
Only very occasionally, and very loosely! Although, having said that, many of the poems in my three poetry collections for children, were inspired by incidents that happened in our family or at the school my children attended.
But the verse-novels have fictional characters living in real locations. Perhaps of all my books, "by the river" uses characters and situations that actually occurred.

What topics do you like to write about?
Now that is a tough question…
Simply put, I like to write about families in all their forms. I like to explore the notion of "community  and what it means to each of us. I believe that every action we take as individuals has a bearing on the world we inhabit - it might only be in the micro-world of the family unit, but that action means something: the ripples of each action gradually expand over many years. It can be a scary thought, but also a really empowering one - I guess I believe in all the "you get what you give  stuff.  My books often explore that notion.

Do writers make a lot of money?
They can. But surveys in Australia have shown that writers are frequently among the lowest income earners. I've made my living as a writer for nearly twenty years and I couldn't imagine changing jobs, or earning the same amount of money at any other job - I don't have those skills!
But, who cares about money. You should do a job because you love it.

Do You Have Any Advice for Young Writers?
Yes - read! Read lots and read widely. That was the best advice I got when I decided to be a writer.

Ever get writer's block?
No, not really. If I'm having trouble writing, I generally leave it, go for a walk, think through the problem, and try again the next day. I never stress about it.

If you hadn't been a writer what would you have done?
I would have loved to be a professional soccer player. I still play soccer now - for a local club. We won the All-Age Competition this year, and I must say, it was almost as exciting for me as winning a literary award!!
But, apart from that dream, I can't think of another job I'd rather have.

When you're not writing what do you do?
I love kayaking, particularly on Sydney Harbour. Cathie often comes with me.
I also love soccer, and eating! And, of course, I love spending time with Jack and Joe.