We were recently given the opportunity to send Ros Moriarty questions, so we asked her a range of topics, from the very general to the specific, involving her new picture books, soon to be reviewed here.
We hope you enjoy her thoughtful and insightful answers. Thanks Ros for your time and your words.
Tell us about your latest books.
“Splosh for the Billabong” and “Summer Rain” are a pair of picture books that blend words and Aboriginal designs to explore the magic of the natural world in remote Australia.
“Splosh for the Billabong” is about making art. I wrote it with the idea of the fun of being creative in general, and finger painting in particular. Although the hidden artist in this book uses ochre from the river bank, any paints will do to make a special painting of the natural world. The exclamations – Splosh, Brush, Scratch, Splat and so on – are the clues to how to use paint to create the word.
“Summer Rain” is about the transition from the Dry season to the Wet season in the far north of Australia. I wanted to help children imagine changes of season from scorching dry to hot and rainy, through the descriptive words, and colours and textures of the pictures. When I worked with our Balarinji studio on this book, I laughed when the designer put the bats upside down in the rain, wrapping their wings around them like a raincoat.
How did you get started as a writer?
My first book was my memoir “Listening to Country” in 2010. It is a story about the last line of Aboriginal Law women with uninterrupted connection to their Dreamings, in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria, my relatives through marriage. A story was waiting to be told about them, and I had the chance to tell it, when I took an eight day trip with them to the Tanami Desert to perform ceremony.
Which author(s) were your inspiration when you were young?
My family where I grew up in Tasmania traced its lineage back through England and Wales, arriving on ships from the early 1800s, so I guess our bookcase mostly reflected that – I loved Enid Blyton, JM Barrie, Beatrix Potter, Anna Sewell, Louisa May Alcott, Hans Christian Anderson, Kenneth Graeme, Johanna Spyri, Nan Chauncy.
What does your typical day look like?
I start my day by walking our border collie down to the harbour park and hurling a ball around for her, before starting work around 7am : I run a design studio and manage the business. I generally write in the evenings, on weekends or holidays, or when travelling, as I’m not a full time writer.
Can you describe your workspace?
Because I write in “borrowed” time, my writing workspace is wherever I am – on trains in Europe, on planes going to America, or on verandahs looking out to sea in far flung places around Australia. A relaxed state of mind at that moment, and a well organised laptop, are the essentials.
Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
I don’t think young readers need much advice. It is natural for children to delight in the imaginary world of books, they will seek it out, whether they can read themselves or someone opens these doors for them. My advice for the ‘door openers’ is the power of loving and giving books is immeasurable. My grandmother inspired my love of reading with endless gifts of beautiful books. While my family fished from the decks of our small boat on the rivers and lakes of the north west coast of Tasmania, I would lie on a bunk in the cabin with my nose in each new book Ma had given me. That combination of the natural world and books has been a strong influence in my writing for both children and adults.
To writers, I’d say the world wants to hear the story you want to tell. Believe in what you want to share.
Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
In the children’s genre, I loved Blyton’s Famous Five books growing up. The thought of solving mysteries out on the Moors without a parent in sight – not that I knew what the Moors were – was thrilling. I wanted to look like Anne – blonde and petite (I was dark haired and chubby) – but lead the pack like feisty George. George was an early alternative female role model, looking back.
If you were not a creator of books for young people, what would you be?
I do love my day job in the design industry, but perhaps I’d be a singer.
What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
Something sensational my sons or daughter – all foodies – have dropped in to cook, so I can keep writing. Fish poached in garlic and ginger broth with coriander and shallots. Or prawn tacos made from scratch. I don’t listen to music while I work, but otherwise I love classical, jazz, country.
How much of yourself, or people you know, is in your books?
I am very much in my books for very young readers. I write about nature to share the wonder I feel whenever I am away from city lights. I hope to share my experience of the seasons, animals and birds, and the peacefulness of life away from the noise of traffic and crowds. Of lying in a swag in the bush under a star-filled sky and feeling the soft breeze on my face in the night. The experience of people I know is there too. The things I’ve been taught by my husband John’s Aboriginal family in the Gulf of Carpentaria, friends we’ve shared long bush treks with.
If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
For all children everywhere to have a free, safe and happy childhood, with love and imagination their guiding stars.
How important is it for non-indigenous Australians to read/see books written in language?
It is very important, in my view, for Indigenous languages to be given visibility. There were more than 300 distinct languages at colonisation. Just a handful remain in daily use by fluent speakers. Their loss is an invisible tragedy. Languages define culture and place, Indigenous languages are part of Australia’s unique heritage, and awareness is crucial to questions about identity and a shared future. Seeing language is an important part of this national conversation.
How can these new books support teachers in classrooms?
These are books that blend words and art, rather than simply being illustrated stories. Because Australia is a coastal dwelling nation in the main, in temperate climate towns and cities, these books help the teacher take children into the magic of nature in desert, tropical and sub-tropical contexts. They are graphical, not just illustrative, and the sun rising across the storyline in “Summer Rain”, and paint “sploshing”, “swirling” and “squelching” in “Splosh for the Billabong”, allow teachers to use familiar concepts to introduce Indigenous designs and special themes. They offer an integration of nature, language and art.
How far have books for indigenous children come in the last decade, and what impact have they had in rural and remote communities?
There are now many more books for Indigenous children, some wonderful examples developed by communities themselves, or in conjunction with authors. For Indigenous children to see recognisable themes that are relevant to their lives, is a powerful way to motivate reading. Relevant books, combined with early literacy support programs, are opening up innovative educational pathways, from babies up.
How important are awards like the CBCA Short Lists in the promotion of books in language?
CBCA Short Lists bring the reading public’s eye to Indigenous themed books. The awards place these books in the mainstream; they give a message that Indigenous languages are relevant and important. Acknowledging these books fosters respect for diversity. They underline the universal truth that language is the keystone for literacy, that first language is part of what defines a child’s place in the world.
- Read Maria H Alessandrino’s review of Splosh for the Billabong
- Read Maria H Alessandrino’s review of Summer Rain