Today, Mummum has the pleasure of speaking to Sally Murphy – cool mum, uber-cool granny and yes…prolific author. I met Sally at the SCBWI Western Australia Rottnest Retreat last year where I was the first Singapore Representative in an exchange programme with SCBWI WA. She was one of the first people whom I gravitated towards at the start of the Retreat because of her fun nature and ever-cheery personality.
As an author of 35 books and counting, Sally wanted to be many things when she grew up – then she realised she didn’t want to grow up! So she’s decided to be a big kid for as long as she can get away with it. Sometimes, though, she manages to masquerade as a grown up, which is just as well because when she’s not writing for children she’s a mother of six, teacher and book reviewer.
So, let’s hear it from Sally:
Sally: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t make up stories and poems. Even before I could write I would tell stories, create imaginary worlds and share them. I had a family who encouraged this, for which I am eternally grateful.
As soon as I could write, I started writing ‘books’, usually in left over school exercise books. I do remember being so in love with a book called Mandy, by Julie Andrews (yes, the actress), and wishing I could write a story like that. As a result I wrote my own version of the story, which I gave to my mum for Christmas.
Sally: I’d been writing and submitting for years (in between working and being a mother) with little success, when I saw an advertisement in the employment section of the newspaper for teachers to write books of educational materials. I rang the number, got the brief sent to me, and put together a proposal. Within a few weeks I had a contract to write the complete book – Speak Out. I didn’t tell the publisher that I was seven months pregnant at the time – so while I was waiting for the baby to come, I managed to get the book written.
Down the track, my first trade fiction publication, Doggy Duo, was also the result of finding a series brief and writing something which closely followed that brief.
Sally: Just two?
Mummum: Okay, 3…haha
Sally: I feel so privileged to be an author and have lots of wonderful moments every day! But if I have to choose two, the first would be that very first acceptance. I danced madly around the kitchen, worrying my husband and mother in-law considerably (remember I was heavily pregnant at the time).
The second is kind of an amalgamation of many moments. It’s the moment when I realised one of my books made a difference. A class of children affected by childhood cancer read Toppling last year and blogged about their reactions; a mother told me her 10 year old daughter had never read a whole book until she heard me speak about Doggy Duo; many people have told me how much Pearl Verses the World speaks to them of their own experiences. Knowing that something I’ve written makes a difference in someone’s life is such a privilege.
4. How has being a mother of six and a grandmother of one influenced your writing?
Sally: I try not to write about my children too much – I don’t want to embarrass them. But I think that being a mum and granny keeps me young and aware of what children like to read. When my children were younger, I would often read my works in progress to them. Now, I sometimes ask them to read what I’ve written and give me feedback. Always, I am aware when I write, that they may be reading the end product – and this inspires me keep writing and to produce the best work I can.
Sally: So many, really, and again difficult to choose just one. I already mentioned Mandy, which inspired me in some special way to write my own books. My absolutely favourite book as a child was Horton Hatches an Egg, I think because it managed to combine fun and frivolity with a sense of justice. In my own writing, I think I try to replicate that – I like to always be as upbeat as possible, even when writing about very serious topics, but at the same time I feel those serious topics are important.
6. What’s your first word of advice to aspiring authors?
Sally: Don’t give up and don’t look for the easiest path. If you really want to write, then your focus should be on developing your craft, making your writing the best it can be by persistence, critiquing, revising, editing, attending courses or workshops and so on.
Listen to feedback and make your writing the best it can be.
Read widely and know your market.
Understand that you will be rejected, and that this is not a sign either that you are not writing well or that getting published is impossible.
Persist. The rewards are worthwhile, but they can be a long time coming.
Read more about Sally and her books here!
Mummum: Sally, thanks for sharing with us your writing journey which is clearly fulled by persistence, passion and a knowing of the privilege of impacting lives through meaning writing!