Claire500 - CopyP1020120This is my interview with Claire Saxby.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I tried on a lot of ideas for size, but few stuck for very long. Doesn’t everyone want to fly? And invisible, wouldn’t that be fun? Oh you mean job? I had a 20 year career in community health as a podiatrist before realising that writing was what I really wanted to do.

What other jobs have you had? I’ve worked in a hospital laundry, ironing sheets, as a polling officer on election days, a letter-sorter, farm hand, potato peeler, waitress, and more. Now I work part time in a bookshop, talking about books! Bliss.

What’s the hardest part of your job? Uncertainty. Is this a good story, or is it rubbish? Am I good enough to make this story work? At present, I’m trying to do something different, something I’ve not successfully completed in the past. I vacillate between thinking it’s okay and being sure that it’s absolute rubbish. My family no longer panic when I come out ranting that I can’t do it – they send me for a walk or feed me chocolate. Both strategies help.

What’s the best part of your job? When a story works, it’s magic. Just magic. It’s so lovely to be with young readers and see the effect books can have. I mainly write picture books and I love that first glimpse of the illustrations generated by my words. Love working with editors too.

What inspired you to write this book? I had written ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ and loved Graham Byrne’s wonderful illustrations. I loved the form, with the dual narratives (one fiction, one non-fiction) and I loved getting to know this iconic Australian animal. The kangaroo is on one side of our national coat of arms, and the emu is on the other. The decision was easy. Plus, I wanted to learn more about this big flightless bird.

What kind of research did you do when writing this book? I read widely, everything I could find. I read books from my local library, the State Library, books and other sources online, both fiction and non-fiction. I visited emus and watched them. I talked to people, asked questions. I was able to buy emu eggs and emu feathers (each of those purchases has its own story!).

What do you think is the most endearing quality of the emu? I love their curiosity. They are gloriously ugly really, as if they have been put together by a group of people who didn’t know what the others were doing … like they were each given a spec for constructing an element of a new animal without having anyone supervising the whole. The wings are too small, the beak too wide for the little head, the coat somewhere between feathers and fur. And those feet! But despite design failures, it just works. Emu is beautiful. And so expressive.

Do you have a favourite zoo? I like open range zoos. I love that most zoos are now moving to enclosures that are more about the animals than about the audience. Melbourne Zoo is amazing and I love their sister zoos in Healesville (Australian animals) and Werribee (open range). I’d love to go ‘back of house’ at any or all of them, to see some of the work they are doing that is not ‘on display’. I volunteered on an Eastern Barred Bandicoot recovery program a few years ago and was able to work with researchers reintroducing these shy little marsupials to the wild (fenced to keep predators out). So much of the work the zoos do is invisible.

Where do you like to work? I work mostly in my office at home, but there are times when the distractions and opportunities for procrastination are overwhelming (hanging out the washing, weeding, washing the floor) and I have to work elsewhere or I’d never finish anything. Then I like either of my two closest libraries or one of the local cafes. Somehow the noise and busyness of these are easier to block out than my dog’s need to clear the backyard airspace of birds.

Do you collect anything? You mean like dust? I collect lots of that. And weeds. Lots of them too. I like texture and love to take photos of patterns and texture. I guess that’s a collection.

Read my review of ‘Emu’ here.

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