After selling more than 1 million books in Australia alone, author Melina Marchetta has just released one of her most challenging titles to date … a chapter series for 5 to 7 year olds.
Best known for the Australian cult classic Looking for Alibrandi, which swept the pool of literary awards when it was published almost 30 years ago, the celebrated author admits writing for newly-independent readers has been one of the hardest and rewarding things she’s done.
Inspired by her own daughter, 8-year-old Bianca, a reluctant reader who previously struggled with literacy, the new series fills a void of titles available for the younger market.
Set in Melina’s Sydney neighbourhood and beautifully illustrated by Deb Hudson, What Zola Did on Monday is the first of seven books for each day of the week, and is aimed at not only engaging but entertaining newly independent readers.
And while writing for a younger audience is something she has never done before, the one constant thread through all of her books is her Catholic upbringing.
Educated at Five Dock’s Rosebank College she said her writing comes from a solid Italian Catholic foundation.
“I think as Catholics we have an unspoken language, one that defines us,” she said.
“Even today it doesn’t take long for you to work out who is a Catholic, it shapes who we are and our core values which I don’t think ever leaves us.
“So many of the characters in my books clearly are educated at Catholic schools and writing for such a young audience with a limited attention span really does mean every word counts.
“I’m used to writing anywhere between 120,000 to 500,000 words a book but with a picture book I’m limited to a maximum of 2,200 words.
“And it’s not just the number of words but how you use them, this market is so impressionable you have to select your words so carefully.
“It really is a case of less is more, and one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”
Melina left school at 15 due to a lack of confidence in her academic abilities and enrolled in a business school and got a job with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and a travel agency.
Her success in business school and at work gave her the confidence to continue studying and she earned a Bachelor of Education degree from the Australian Catholic University, before teaching English, Italian and History at St. Mary’s Cathedral School for 10 years before becoming a full-time writer.
Her debut book Looking For Alibrandi is a moving and revealing insight into the life of a young person on the brink of adulthood. Set in a Catholic high school it was made into an award-winning feature film starring Pia Miranda, Antony LaPaglia, Gretta Scacchi and Matthew Newton.
To win one of 10 copies of What Zola Did on Monday, send your name, email and postal address to [email protected] . Good luck!