We had the pleasure of chatting with Monica about Marcie Gill, her inspiration behind delving into the children’s middle grade genre, and how nostalgic memories of growing up in SA informed some of the settings in the book.
1. You have a dozen adult novels to your name, but this is your first book for children, tell us why you decided to delve into the kids (8-12 years) genre?
I am the proud aunt of 18 nieces and nephews and have been writing stories for them for years, in between my adult novels. One of those short stories planted the seed for Marcie Gill. That was 8 years ago – this story has been a long time in the making! I can also vividly remember the feeling of reading as a child, falling under the spell of stories, especially those that mixed real life with magical happenings. I wanted to recreate that feeling for myself as a writer. It’s such a thrill to now share Marcie’s story with young readers.
2. What inspired the story of Marcie Gill?
It started with the character Marcie herself – an earnest, determined 10-year-old who wants to fix everything. Two moments from my own childhood also played a part. I’m a lifelong cat lover and always wanted a pet with the magical qualities George has in the story. A line I found in my Grade 1 school report of 51 years ago also sparked ideas. My teacher wrote: “Monica is extremely interested in everything.” It not only made me laugh (I’m still overly curious) but it became a perfect character trait for Marcie too.
3. What messages did you hope to convey to young readers through the story?
Firstly, I hope young readers are swept up in the fun, friendship, family and magical adventures in the story. But underneath that, I hope it gently explores ideas of kindness, patience, love, family loyalty and the importance of dusting yourself off after a setback and trying once more.
4. How different is writing a story for kids to writing one for adults?
In many ways, it isn’t different at all. In my adult novels, I try hard to invent characters who are fully-rounded, with flaws as well as good points. I love to include plenty of plot twists, surprises and lively family scenes. I also love to describe beautiful settings. I wanted Marcie Gill to have all of that too, with the fun addition of magical scenes. I had a smaller canvas to work on wordcount-wise, but I still did dozens of drafts. I was also lucky to have the expert guidance of my Puffin Books editor Mary Verney. I learned there’s no time for backstory in a children’s book – the story needs to take off from the very first scene or the book will be left abandoned.
5. South Aussie illustrator Danny Snell illustrated the book, we’re a south Aussie publication so we love this! Did you have a strong vision for how you wanted the illustrations to look or did Danny just get creative in bringing the characters to life?
My publisher showed me several possible illustrators’ portfolios and I immediately chose Danny. I love the warmth and personality of his drawings. I happily left him to read the story and create his own look for the characters. I think he’s done such a beautiful job. The illustration of Marcie hugging her Gran breaks my heart. I love the one of Marcie and George the cat reading the newspaper together too.
6. We know you grew up in the Clare Valley in SA – did you bring some SA nostalgia/memories into the storyline/locations of Marcie Gill?
I definitely brought in all my memories of hot Decembers in South Australia! I don’t name it specifically, but I picture Snorkel Bay on the Yorke Peninsula, a four-hour drive from Adelaide. Two of the characters also live in the Adelaide Hills. My dad was the Clare railway stationmaster, and as kids, our family (my parents, six brothers and sisters and I) would stay at railway beach houses around SA. I have a clear memory of walking past seaside caravan parks during those holidays, looking in enviously, imagining the fun of staying in a caravan. (Impossible with a family of nine, we would have needed a fleet of them.) The Snorkel Bay Caravan Park grew from that wishful thinking.
7. Can we expect to see more Marcie Gill adventures in the future?
Yes! I had so much fun writing the first Marcie Gill that I’m writing a second book right now, and already have ideas for a third…
Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat is published by Penguin and is available from all good bookstores from November 2.