Interview: Susanne Gervay

Awarded the Lifetime Social Justice Literature Award for her body of work by the International Literacy Association, Susanne Gervay is recognized for her youth literature and writing on social justice. Susanne’s young adult Butterflies is recognized as Outstanding Youth Literature on Disability, while her acclaimed picture books are recognized for their engagement with disability, inclusion, multiculturalism and peace.   Her I Am Jack books have become rite-of-passage on school bullying, adapted into an acclaimed play by Monkey Baa Theatre, it continues to tour Australian and US theatres. Susanne’s books are endorsed by Room to Read, bringing literacy to the children of the developing world, The Cancer Council. The Alannah & Madeline Foundation. Variety the children’s charity, the Children’s Hospital Westmead Sydney, Life Education and many educational organisations.

The interview with Susanne that follows is part of a series exploring the inspirations and influences of creative people.

TRM: What were your favourite texts growing up?

 SG: I read and re-read the young reader version of the biographies of composers and musicians – Beethoven, Chopin,  Mozart,  Tchaikovsky, Paganini and many others. I just loved these books. Most of them overcame huge challenges and had demanding lives to create amazing music. I found it inspiring. I also read Enid Blyton especially The Famous Five. I felt like I was part of the adventures and it was free from adults and we could be heroes. As soon as I was a teenager I became a Georgette Heyer fan. It was the romance and the heroes within Regency Britain. It prepared me for my true love – Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. I became an even bigger Jane Austen fan. Jane Austen presented girls with great strength. Then there was Jane Eyre which I re-read dozens of times.  Again it was about meeting challenges and finding your own strength and love as well.

What texts do you keep coming back to and why?

To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch personifies true leadership and courage and makes me think of my father. I always go back to how Tom Robinson who was such a good man, could become a victim of racism because he was black. I love every part of this book which impacted on my values.

Are there texts that relate to your life?

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult  is such a powerful book about family, love, sacrifice for your sibling and how young people feel so much and can be incredibly courageous.

Are there any artists and texts that influence you creatively?

Geraldine Brooks – love the way she combines research with deep issues. Nine Parts of Desire which goes behind the Islamic veil to uncover the life of women is powerful and strengthens my commitment to the rights of women. The classics – Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, George Orwell, Johnathan Swift, Shakespeare ….and the great poets such as John Donne, Gerald Manly Hopkins, Keats – I read extensively and these books not only influenced me but have been incorporated into my books.

Are there any quotes or other words of wisdom you find helpful for your practice?

‘Writing a book is not as tough as it is to haul thirty-five people around the country and sweat like a horse five nights a week.’Bette Midler.

I love Bette Midler’s quote which recognises the very hard work and commitment needed when you write. Gives me strength to continue to the end even when it is very hard.

‘Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.’ William Faulkner.

Reading is truly the basis being a good writer.

What is a text that every developing artist should read/watch/listen to?

Every developing artist should read extensively as it helps with craft and developing their craft. However a must-read is  Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

You can find more information about Susanne on her website and Facebook page.

Feature image is by Moyan Brenn via Flickr Creative Commons.

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