Interview with Writing Mother Sharon Norris
Posted on July 4, 2013
Happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans! I’ve snuck away from my family before the fireworks start outside, to bring you this interview with Aussie writing mum Sharon L. Norris! I hope you enjoy her perspective from the other side of the globe. Please read on to find out how Sharon Norris balances her life as a writing mother, and don’t forget to check out her website for more on her books and insights!
Tell me about your children and how you find time to write.
I have two daughters aged 16 and 11. I’ve been writing for children since 1996 – the same year my eldest girl was born. I was first accepted for publication in 2004, when my eldest girl was 7 and my youngest was 2, so my writing between 1996 and then was done with two small children in my life. Obviously, family comes first so most of my writing was done at night time after they were tucked up in bed. In my pre-kid days I used to be someone who would rise at 4am to write before going to work, and I could never stay up late. After having kids, I became a night owl. Now, with a teen and a tween, I still write at night.
What do your children think of your writing?
My girls are proud of me and what I do, but don’t think it’s any big deal. I think that’s because despite my publication successes I’m not a ‘name’ in the industry (sob!). I’m sure if I were as successful as J.K. Rowling, they might think differently because they equate her commercial success with her writing.
In which genre do you write?
I have specialised in junior novels aimed at upper primary school students (8-12 years). I believe this is what Americans call ‘mid-grade novels’. I love writing adventure stories. My novel Finders Keepers is about two brothers who find a dinosaur egg on a beach and hide it away when everyone wants to take it from them. The Balloonatic! is the tale of a mad-keen hot air balloon enthusiast who gets to ride in a balloon for his birthday, and has to use all his knowledge when the pilot collapses mid-flight. My novel The Croc Shock is aimed at slightly younger readers and is about a boy who lives on an animal reserve and takes a baby crocodile to school for Show and Tell. And my book The Blink-off is about a game played by children the world over, and is aimed at fluent early readers. This year I have turned my hand to writing my very first young adult novel in the futuristic dystopian genre which is so popular right now. I am five chapters in so far and the feedback from my writing groups is good.
They all sound so interesting! U.S. readers, note that Finders Keepers is available on Kindle through the U.S. Amazon site. (I’m mentioning this because it’s interesting; I receive no monetary gain from the links.)
How does your writing affect your family life?
I try to ensure that writing doesn’t affect my family life. The kids know this is what I do, but I do it at times when it’s not going to impact on my time with them. I supervise homework after school, I do housework and cook like most other mums, and the weekends are special times for us.
What is your typical writing pace?
I don’t put pressure on myself to write at a particular pace. Ideas and plot points will come to me at different times, and I edit every chapter after it’s written. However, I have writing colleagues who are very methodical about their approach and if they don’t spend so many hours a day writing, they are very hard on themselves. Personally, I would not survive under such a regimental writing arrangement. It would not work for me. One of my groups has regular ‘writing races’ through the week, which involves you writing for a set period and reporting in the word count. This is great as it’s very motivational and everyone who participates ‘wins’ for actually participating.
It’s wonderful to hear that you are able to keep such a balance by not pressuring yourself with pace. I cope in an opposite way, with weekly word count goals, and I’m glad to see a working alternative!
Beginning, middle, or end? Which part of a book/story do you most like to write?
I love creating memorable openings to my stories. But as all writers know, the whole book is important.
Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated writing space?
In cyberspace, yes. I have a website. At home, no. I don’t have an office, so I write at the kitchen table. Anywhere I can take my laptop to write is a bonus.
You’re not the first writing mother to tell me that. I think I’ll add a search category for “kitchen table.” It seems to be an important place in the lives of many writing mothers. I often write standing at my kitchen counter, which is roughly equivalent. I also listen to my favorite opera tracks that way without disturbing the children’s ears. Do you write with background music? A soundtrack?
No. I find music very distracting. I also don’t have Facebook or any social media open on my computer when I write as it’s also very distracting.
I can relate. I usually turn off the wireless internet access when I write for the same reason.
What inspires you?
Everything! I read avidly and will jot down notes from news items or other things that interest me, as well as my own general knowledge and I will admit, I’m a card-carrying conspiracy theorist! Finders Keepers was inspired by a true story of children finding a dinosaur egg in another state in my country. The Balloonatic! was born because I loved the idea of the title, and then researched hot air ballooning and my story was born. The Croc Shock originally started out as an ode to the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, and what I imagined he might have been like as a little boy. The Blink-off was inspired by reading a Little Golden Book to my eldest daughter on the subject of cats (a cat is central to the plot). My current YA work in progress draws together elements from my work as a registered marriage celebrant and what I’ve imagined the world to be like in 400 years.
Conspiracy theorist, imaginatively inspired tie-ins with reality, and you’re a marriage celebrant! Let me know when you write an autobiography! I think you just became a candidate for a lot of imaginary cocktail party guestlists. (We have an American thought exercise where you make up a list of interesting persons you would like to have at a cocktail party for wonderful conversation.) Speaking of which, what is your beverage of choice when writing?
Milo. It’s a hot chocolate type of drink that is popular here in Australia.
What’s next for you?
I’m in the process of moving to a very remote part of Australia for work. This will separate my family as my eldest girl is to stay here in Brisbane and complete her senior year at school as well as access specialist care for a medical condition she has, while I take my youngest with me thousands of kilometres north-west, right to the top of Australia. I will continue writing my YA book and will be most thankful for the internet to keep me in touch with the outside world because the place I’m going to in the Northern Territory is very remote. I’ve already joined the Arnhem Writers Group and will be helping them with an art festival later this year.
Best wishes to you and your family in this transition time. I’m glad you have a writing group to go to! Speaking of writing groups, is there a story you think ought to be written, but not by you? (Here’s a place to drop hints to a writing friend, if you’d like.)
The Amazing Spencer Gray, a mid-grade novel by Australian children’s and YA author, Deb Fitzpatrick.
I have to be a bit parochial here – Aussie children’s and YA authors are tops. Jackie French is my favourite. Her mum Val taught me creative writing at university in the early 1990s so I’ve been watching Jackie’s career soar to great heights since then. I also like Michael Gerard Bauer, who writes wonderful children’s books.Which books have stayed with you long after you’ve read them?
Books with amazing concepts or memorable characters.
My career has been mostly within State and Local Government in Australia. Much of this time has been spent in writing-related roles so I’ve been able to hone my writing skills to a considerable degree. I’m an experienced technical writer, but luckily, this has also extended to creative writing. I’ve also spent some time running my own business as a writer, trainer and marriage celebrant and all of these things have played a part in my writing. The latter, for instance, has helped me with plot points for my current work in progress.Do you have other creative pursuits that feed into your writing?
My children are very artistic, but they don’t get that from me. Writing is my only creative pursuit. I love to sing but I am terrible so thankfully, I’m not ‘licenced to trill.’
Happy to chat and share info. Thanks so much!