An Interview with Jeni Mawter
Jan.s: Jeni, we’ve only met recently at the children’s illustrators/writers meet chaired by the wonderful Susanne Gervay at The Hughenden.
What struck me about you was your quiet forthrightness and also that you have a whacky sense of humour! At our last meet you talked about a breakthrough and to herald in your new awakening…you gave each of us a pink flying pig candle!!! Can I ask you to share with me that breakthrough?
Jeni: Ah, the flying pig candle … Of course, I can share my breakdown, breakout, er, breakthrough.
After many years of publishing success as a writer with two major series published by Harper Collins Australia (the ‘So!’ series: So Gross!, So Feral!, So Sick!; So Festy!; So Grotty! and So Stinky! And the ‘Freewheelers’ series: Unleashed!; Launched! and Extreme!) as well as many books with smaller publishing houses I hit a brick wall. The Freewheelers series had been optioned for television, but when funding fell through the series was dropped. After this, I experimented with my writing, exploring and moving away from my ‘brand’, and ultimately into the wilderness. Nothing I wrote was accepted for publication. Nothing of my more innovative work fit any of the publisher’s lists. I felt like an outcast and that I no longer belonged to the writing community. But like the writing fool that I am I kept trying, driven by the belief that pigs could fly! One day I set myself a new challenge, to write a picture book text that captured ‘joy’. And lo and behold, after several mainstream publisher rejections, it was accepted by a small press, Wombat Books. After two and a half years of rejections, I am delighted to announce that The Snugglebump Jump is being published in 2011 and illustrated by the talented Sarah Dahl
Jan.s: I’ve read that you worked as a speech pathologist. As you know my interests are also in the area of voice and also the systems in our bodies that inform our fluidity of thought/feeling and movement…I’d love to know a little more about your work in this area and if it informs any aspect of your writing.?
Jeni: Being a speech pathologist gave me a wonderful grounding for writing. It taught me to be observant. It taught me to be aware of the ‘human’ condition and what can happen when parts of the body break down. I began to value communication in any form, not just ‘correct’ speech and language. I worked with laryngectomy’s who had lost their voice box through cancer, with people who’d suffered neurological trauma through stroke and head injuries, and with people with voice and communication problems that were more psychologically based.I learnt that age was no barrier to voice and communication disorder and I became in awe of the fighting spirit in the community of people with which I worked. Basically, I became a good listener, both in terms of listening for pathology, but also in terms of non-judgemental listening, happy to rejoice in any and all acts of communication. Hopefully, you see this in my writing of characters.
Jan.s: You’ve had many books published. Would you share with my readers the nature of those books?
Jeni: As well as the trade fiction books I’ve already mentioned I’ve been really lucky to publish other trade fiction books (Team Dream, There’s a Sun Fairy in Our Garden), many education fiction books (Maisie’s Race, Turkey Pox to name a couple), many non-fiction education books (the “Critical Thinking, Humour and Text’ series with Macmillan, ‘Classroom Focus’ series with Scholastic), verse narrative and poetry, articles, academic papers etc etc.
Jan.s: I’d like to draw on a previous interview where you mention that you were a tomboy as a kid… I can relate to this…and that having that sensibility (along with your children) has informed your love of writing about the unmentionable goopy stuff! For example from one of your ‘So’ Series:
‘Josh is trying to swallow and chew at the same time. It's dodgy. Rivers of green are gushing down his chin... As bad as it is for Josh, it is worse for Finn. He has started to froth. Saliva foams from the corners of his mouth, spume slides from his nose, his eyes gush. His body is blistered with sweat. He's moaning incoherently. I catch the words dash of chilli as he goes down’.
Jeni: I’ve always thought I was a boy in a past life. I love being around kids. I love their unbridled enthusiasm, their ever-present sense of humour, their invincibility. I love their ability to experience joy and wonder without the tarnish of cynicism. As a children’s writer, if I can share their wit and creativity and optimism, I will!
Jeni Mawter (disguised as J.A. Mawter) is the author of the hilarious 'So' series – So Gross! So Feral! So Sick! So Festy! So Grotty! and So Stinky! as well as the 'Freewheeler' series – Unleashed!, Launched! and Extreme! and the novel Team Dream.
With a Master of Arts in Children's Literature Jeni's teaching credits include: Macquarie University; the NSW Writer's Centre; and presenter for the Lateral Learning and Show & Tell Speaker's Agencies.
Jeni lives in Sydney with one husband, three children, one mad black spoodle appropriately named Maddie, plus zillions of bush cockroaches all of whom are a source of inspiration for her writing.