The latest incredible woman to join us at our dinner table is Mem Fox. Mem is the author of Possum Magic, which is the bestselling children’s book in Australia.
Before she became one of Australia’s best known and most loved children’s authors, Mem taught at universities, teaching teachers how to teach reading and writing.
MM: You’ve written over 40 books for children. We would love to know where does all the inspiration come from?
MF: Inspiration for me comes from real life. If it didn’t come from my own experience, it might not be real to other people. If something is real to me, there is a greater chance it will be real to other people.
MM: Have you always had an active imagination?
MF: I guess so! Too active, on occasions.
MM: Has having children of your own helped you to access your imagination and come up with your stories?
MF: Yes, in fact Possum Magic was written for my daughter. I essentially wrote it to fill a gap in her reading, as I felt there were no truly Australian children’s books available at that time. Having a child made all the difference in the world, I suddenly realised how switched- on five year olds can be. You need to respect your audience in your writing. I don’t patronise children in my books. I treat them as if they were adults. The best thing that could have happened to my writing was becoming a grandmother 3 years ago; it recharged my writing career.
MM: What was the most disappointing moment or biggest setback in your career? How did you recover?
MF: The most disappointing moment in my career was when Possum Magic did not win Book of the Year at the Book Week Awards in 1994. I was beside myself and never recovered as it meant a lot to me to win. I came second and I really should have been satisfied with that as Possum Magic went on to become the bestselling children’s book ever in this country.
MM: Your stories have played a role in the childhood of so many Australians. How does it feel to know you’ve been able to touch so many people on a personal level, and at such a young age?
MF: It makes me feel lovely, I have to say! I’m so privileged to have been given a talent and to have been able to use this talent wisely for the betterment of little kids’ lives; to soothe them and to excite them, to comfort them and inform them. It feels fantastic.
MM: How would you define your kind of feminism?
MF: Pretty fierce. I’m not a particularly active feminist in that I don’t talk about it, but I think it is pretty clear through my writing. The two main characters in Possum Magic, much to the surprise of most readers, are female and it’s interesting to think that people also believe that the two main characters in my book, Koala Lou are male; there are actually no male characters in that book. I don’t like to write my female lead characters as weak, dependent or stupid. Too much children’s literature fails to provide role models for girls. Many girls are not respected in children’s picture books. But I’m not a rebelling feminist, I want to respect all children in my work, I write for all young boys and girls. I write very tender books for boys because of course I love and respect them too.