FAQs about Claire

What would you like to know….?Claire Saxby as infant


What were you like as a kid?

My family tell me I was placid and happy most of the time. Of course I was.

Young Claire Saxby with fishWe lived interstate from our grandparents and travelled to visit them every second Christmas. Every other year we went on holidays to somewhere beachy, mostly on the northern NSW coast. When I was about 8, I caught this fish. I was very proud to be the first person in my family to catch a fish. But what you can’t really see, is that the fish tail was very slippery and I nearly dropped it.

When I was 11 years old we went on a holiday on a ship. One of the entertainment activities was a fancy-dress parade.Claire in hibiscus costume Mum had to be very creative because there were no costume-hire shops, and after some brainstorming, she made all our costumes from crepe paper. I really liked my hibiscus costume, but I was very uncomfortable walking past the judges (way too many people looking at me). One of my brothers was a little tin soldier and another was Tarzan (I think he won a prize – he was really good at acting like Tarzan)

What jobs have you had?

I have worked in a Victorian postal centre, sorting Christmas cards and letters for NSW. For a long time after that, I could quote the postcode for many NSW suburbs and towns. I have worked in a hospital laundry, feeding sheets into an automatic sheet-ironing machine. Hot, hot, hot! I have worked on Federal, State and Council elections as an electoral officer. I spent many years as a podiatrist, working mainly in community health. I have been a waitress and a bookseller.

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere! There are ideas in the air, in the water, in the parks. Some of these are to do with air, water or parks. Many others arrive while I’m watching the sky, swimming or walking by water, or if I’m in my local park. I don’t tend to listen to music or stories when I’m walking because that’s my thinking time, my idea-catching time, my problem-sorting-out time.

It is also true that ideas sometimes plop into my head when I’m supposed to be washing dishes, listening to something else, or even halfway through a sentence. Ideas are not always convenient. I carry a notebook always so I can jot them down and then return to the conversation I’m supposed to be having. Then when I have time, I can see whether the idea is big enough and strong enough to become a story.

Do you find writing hard?

Yes. No. Sometimes. Confusing, right?

There always seems to be a point in the writing of a new story when I am absolutely sure I’m not going to be able to make it work. It’s lost, it’s dull, it makes no sense. There’s not enough of the good bits, and too much of the not-good bits. Aggh! At this point, I have to walk away from my story and give it some time. Walking helps. Sure enough, if I keep showing up, and keep taking breaks when I get stuck, I find my way eventually. I’d be happy to skip the horrible doubt that comes in the middle of every new story, but for me it seems to be an essential part of the process.

Do all your stories get published?

No. I have folders and folders full of stories that are not published. Some are just not good enough. Some were submitted at times when someone else had already submitted something just like it. Some need more work. Sometimes I go back and work some more on a story, but sometimes they are just meant to be writing practice. And that’s okay too.

Do you have children?

I do. Three boys, all now adults. I miss them a lot, although it’s easier now to keep food in the pantry. And chocolate. I used to hide chocolate on the top shelf in the pantry until they grew taller than me and then I had to find new hiding spots.

What pets have you had?

Hermit crabs, fish, hens, rabbits, ferrets, cats, dogs. I love dogs best.

What do you know about krill?

Quite a lot, particularly Antarctic krill. My favourite thing about Antarctic krill is that when the winter is coming, they change from being adults back to being juveniles so they can wait out the cold. Isn’t that amazing?

Why do you write for young people?

I love writing for different ages. So sometimes I like to write for pre-school-aged children, using rhyme, rhythm and repetition. I like to write books about Australian animals and oceans I like to write short and long books about history. Writing for young people means I can do all these things. I love researching and I love sharing what I find. I love the openness and curiosity of young people and I love to talk with them.

How do you feel about snakes?

When I was young, I lived in Papua New Guinea. One day, I was sitting in the shallow water at the beach, putting on my flippers, then mask and snorkel. I put my face in the water where I was sitting to make sure the mask didn’t leak. And there was a banded coral snake! Right next to me. I had two choices: I could take three steps and be on the land, away from the snake; or I could swim really fast 100 m out to sea. What do you think I did?

Recently, I wrote the biography of Georgia Ward-Fear and she really loves snakes. I’m not sure I really love them yet, but I’m learning more about them and they are fascinating. Thanks Georgia!

How long does it take to write a book?

That’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. I have stories that have become books within a year, and others that I’m still working on after nearly 20 years. A picture book can take 2-3 years from idea to finished book, if everything goes right and an illustrator is free to work on it. That’s a general rule, but it can take much longer.

Do you have any advice for people who want to write?

Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Read for fun, and read to learn. If you find a book you love, have another read to see if you can work out why you loved it so much. Write lists. Write signs. Write poems. Write stories. Play with words. Collect favourite words.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

Our house was always full of books. I loved Heidi and read it over and over. I had several collections of fairy tales and read them over and over as well. When our family moved overseas, those books disappeared. I thought they were gone forever and was very excited when I moved back to Melbourne to find several of my fairy tale collections on the shelves at my cousin’s house. When her children had finished reading them (had grown up), the books came back to my house. And they live there still.

What is your favourite word?

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (hippo-poto-mon-stro-ses-quip-ped-a-lio-pho-bia) which means fear of long words. Isn’t that fabulous? Elephant is a wonderful word. So is delicious. Oh dear, so many favourites.