Anthony Hill Q & A
Where were you born?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 24 May, 1942. I have one sister, Vanessa.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Box Hill Grammar School (now Kingswood College) in Melbourne as a boarder and day pupil, and then to Box Hill High School for my last two years.
What were your favourite subjects?
English and history. I love music and learnt to play the piano. I still play for Scottish country dancing. I also like jazz and ragtime.
Did you go to University?
I matriculated from school in 1959. I did some history and politics subjects part-time at Melbourne University and later at the Australian National University in Canberra, but I didn't finish a degree. I always wanted to write, and became a newspaper reporter.
Where did you work?
When I left school, I started work as a copy boy with The Melbourne Herald (making tea, running messages, taking the reporters' news stories, called 'copy', to the editors). After 18 months I became a cadet journalist, and began to report from the law courts, local government and State politics. In 1972 I moved with my family to Canberra, Australia's capital city, to report national politics from the Press Gallery at Parliament House. I worked first for the Melbourne Herald and then for the Australian Financial Review. We were in Canberra for five years, until we went to live in a country town.
How many people are in your family?
At first there are three of us: my wife, Gillian, who I married in 1965, and our daughter, Jane, who was born in Canberra in 1973. But the numbers are growing. Jane married Paul Mangion in 2008, and now they are expecting their first baby – our first grandchild – due in May 2009: my birthday! We have a step-grandchild, Lucy Mangion.
Why did you go to the country?
In 1977 we left Canberra to open our own antique furniture shop in a township near Yass, in southern New South Wales. We lived there for six years, until we returned to Canberra in 1983. The experience formed the basis of my first books The Bunburyists (1985), Antique Furniture in Australia (1985) and Birdsong (1988).
What happened after that?
At first I worked for a local television station as a news reporter. I went back to the Press Gallery briefly, and later worked as a journalist for a number of public authorities such as The National Museum of Australia, The Department of Social Security and The Australian National University. In 1989 I was invited to become speech-writer for the Governor-General of Australia, Mr Bill Hayden, at Government House in Canberra. I was there for nearly 10 years, subsequently working part-time as a speech-writer and research assistant for Sir William Deane. It was during this time that I published my first successful children's book The Burnt Stick (1994) and several other stories for young readers including Spindrift (1996), The Grandfather Clock, and Growing Up and Other Stories (1999).
Where do you work now?
At the end of 1998 I left Government House to work at home as a full-time writer. Since then I have published my three military books – Soldier Boy (2001), Young Digger (2002), Animal Heroes (2005) – several books for younger readers including The Shadow Dog (2003), Forbidden (2002), Harriet (2006), River Boy ()2006) and my first picture book Lucy's Cat and the Rainbow Birds (2007) with Jane Tanner. In 2008 I published Captain Cook's Apprentice, the story of the Endeavour voyage.
What do you do when you're not writing?
For much of the time I think about it. When I'm composing a new book I write a minimum of 200 words a day – often more, but never less. And I always stop when I know what the next words are going to be. For the rest of the day they roll around in my brain, and often at night I'll dream them. So that when I wake up very early next morning and go to the keyboard, the next page is already formed in my mind. But it's not all scribbling. I also enjoy reading, playing the piano, walking with my little dog Lady, cooking, gardening, visiting schools to talk about my books – and of course selling them to people who want to read them.
Why did you become a writer?
Ever since I was a boy I have wanted to write. I was was lucky enough to grow up in a house where there were lots of books. From a young age I knew how powerful the written word can be to express ideas and emotions that are not only part of the author's life but which also touch the lives of their readers.
When did you write your first book?
I wrote my first story when I was about 11 years old. I was a journalist for 17 years before we went to the country, and I found the true subject for my creative writing. I was 43 when my first book, The Bunburyists was published.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are all around us: in our dreams, in the incidents of everyday life, in the places we visit, in the people we know, in the stories they tell us, in the small things we see and live with all the time. Birds feeding under trees, a charcoal stick burnt in the fire, the ocean in stormy weather, the clock in the hall at home, throwing a ball for my dog, a stray sentence in a book... All these things have given me ideas for stories.
What is the best book you've written?
The most successful books of mine are Soldier Boy and The Burnt Stick, both of which a number of awards. But I think my best book (and also my most challenging book for young readers) is The Grandfather Clock.
What is your favourite book?
The favourite book for every author is the one you are writing now. The characters and their stories are as precious as a new-born baby. But Birdsong has a special place, for I wrote it with my daughter; and Spindrift is really about my loved grandmother's last few days. Yet the one that has remained with me the longest is Young Digger. It is the father in me I suppose. I want to get the little war orphan home. I want to see him safe.
Are you writing any more books?
I have a few ideas for some more books, but I'm not ready to talk about them publicly yet. Once you do that it becomes more difficult to write them down.
What are your favourite books by other authors?
My favourite books are still the classics. They have survived across the generations and appeal to both children and adults: Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Seven Little Australians, The Lord of the Rings, and everything by Jane Austen and William Shakespeare. Among contemporary authors for children I especially like the work of Patricia Wrightson, John Marsden, Allan Baillie, Nadia Wheatley and of course Roald Dahl. My favourite modern writers for adults are Patrick White, Graham Greene, Manning Clark and John le Carre.