Interview: Jackie French
By Juliet, Yam, Aryan and Lucy from The Press Gang
Introduction by Juliet from the Press Gang
Jackie French is my favourite author, she has been ever since Ms Wilson read 5/6T Nanberry last year. Stories like Nanberry and Thomas Appleby Convict Boy have inspired me to want to learn more about history. I just love the way Jackie writes, she is able to write for adults and for kids in a brilliant way. My dream came true when I asked Cat if I could interview Jackie French, she said she knew Jackie French and she said that it was possible. I got to speak to Jackie French. I asked her about her childhood, the authors that she loves and that inspire her and what she loves about wombats, that was a funny one.
Press Gang: When did you start writing?
Jackie: We had a saying when I was young that you could make a wish on the first star that appeared every night and I would go into the backyard and I would wait till the first star appeared. And day after day, year after year, I would wish upon a star, please, please let me be a writer when I left school and so I always, always wanted to be a writer.
Press Gang: Who were your favourite authors as a girl?
Jackie: There weren’t many books for young people around when I was a girl. The main books I read were the ones that my grandmother had had as a girl. And those were Girls Own Annuals from about 1900 to 1912 – they were wonderful! They were all about young women who flew bi-planes across oceans, and landed on desert islands and captured smugglers and things like that. They were so exciting.
I also loved the Australian books by Mary Grant Bruce, and books like Annette of River Bend which is still one of my favourite books. But I was also reading adult books, because they were there and no-one really cared what I read as long as I kept quiet. So I also loved, I Aldous Huxley at the same time as I loved Enid Blyton.
Press Gang: What books do you love to read in your spare time?
Jackie: I have a shelf of emergency books – these are books that I know I can escape into and they’re going to be fun. I’ve got a special bookcase where I know that if there’s an emergency and I need to really escape into a book for a while, I can grab three or four books from the bookcase and they’ll see me through.
One of my favourite authors for that is actually Anne George who was an American writer, who wrote books about two very, very different cousins. They are very, very funny.
Press Gang: What was it like growing up with dyslexia?
Jackie: Mostly I was just extraordinarily lucky with incredibly kind and understanding teachers. It’s only now I realise how much trouble it was for them to even read my writing. My English teacher in high school, a few years ago, told me about the first essay I’d ever written for her. And she said it was just scrawled all over the page, and looked like someone who didn’t know how to read or write had written it. She said she put it aside assuming that, look it was a fail there was no point trying to read it. Then she said she finished the others and felt guilty and went okay, I will try and read it. And she read it and she absolutely loved it. And she called her husband and said “You have to read this essay, it’s wonderful. You have to read it.”
He was a linguist, he spoke about seven or eight languages. He took it off to read it and he came back 20 minutes later and said, “What language is she writing in?” He couldn’t even read it. I had no idea it was as hard as that for my teachers to read my writing and help me and encourage me in the way I did.
Press Gang: What do you love about wombats?
Jackie: They are funny, they really are hilarious. I love watching them. Even the way a wombat walks, its front end goes one way and its back end is going another way. The way they actually just stand perfectly still and think about things, and I was watching a wombat yesterday. It had eleven different ways to scratch. First of all it was scratching itself on a rock. Then it scratched with one paw, then another paw and then it sort of sat down on and sort hoicked itself around and managed to scratch the back of its neck with yet another paw, and it was hilarious. Then after about five minutes of scratching that was it, it had a scratch, everything was scratched and it went of to do other things, and didn’t scratch again in all the hours I was watching it.
Unlike a pet dog or a pet cat, I don’t have to feed the wombats or look after them, or find somewhere for them to stay if I’m away. The wombats here are all wild animals and they just live around the house because our property is a conversation reserve.
Press Gang: How did you feel when you book, Hitler’s Daughter, became a stage play produced by Monkey Baa Theatre Company?
Jackie: Very, very surprised. They rang me up wanting to do it, and I said but nothing really happens in the book, except in the last four pages. But I really like them, I really admired the work they were doing and I thought, “Okay, if they think they can make an interesting stage play, I’ll trust them.” And they did. It was wonderful. I was in tears and so was everyone else at the first performance. They just did it so brilliantly
Press Gang: One of our teachers is a big fan of yours, one of her favourite books is Nanberry, she cries every time she reads it.
Jackie: I cried writing it, but that was a strange book to write because I didn’t mean to write it. It started out as the possum who kissed a convict. It was just going to be about Surgeon White and how he was lonely in Australia and tried to tame possums and never succeeded. Then I
found out about Rachel who was the woman he loved. Because her story, her trial came online from the Old Bailey trials. And I suddenly realised that he wasn’t alone. He had this woman he loved very, very much.