Writers On Writing / Succeeding in writing for children with Belinda Murrell

‘Publishing is like any other industry where trends change over time, genres come in and out of fashion and kids are looking for different kinds of stories…most importantly, it is writing books which kids love to read.’

Writers on Writing is our regular conversation with a writer or industry professional about the writing craft, industry insights, and their own practice. This week, we spoke to award-winning children’s author Belinda Murrell about her success in the writing for children industry, ahead of her upcoming course Online Feedback: Children’s Books.

How do you keep coming up with new ideas for children’s books? Are you noticing changing trends in what children are responding to?

Coming up with fresh ideas can be an on-going challenge. I get my ideas from all around me – travels, childhood memories, my own children and their escapades, family holidays, my pets and their antics, history, fairytales and mythology. For example, my middle grade time slip novels The Golden Tower and The Silver Sea were inspired by Italian fairytales and a family holiday in Tuscany a few years ago. I always carry a notebook where I jot down ideas as they come to me. I am incredibly lucky because I have a long, working relationship with my publisher Zoe Walton at Penguin Random House (about 19 years now) so I can meet with her and discuss different concepts to decide which ones might work best, taking into consideration current trends and market conditions.

Over my career, I have pivoted from writing fantasy adventure to contemporary middle grade fiction, award-winning historical time slip novels to picture books, and best-selling junior fiction such as the Lulu Bell series. Publishing is like any other industry where trends change over time, genres come in and out of fashion and kids are looking for different kinds of stories. Currently I think children love entertaining books filled with humour, graphic novels, stories celebrating diversity and multiculturalism, and fun, fantasy adventures featuring mythical creatures, unicorns, and dragons, such as my new junior fiction series The Daredevil Princess.

You’ve won and been shortlisted for many awards; what makes your children’s books stand out?

Most importantly, it is writing books which kids love to read. Of course, I love to explore ideas such as feminism, multiculturalism, caring for the environment, Australian history, diversity, sustainability, friendship, the importance of family, and kindness, however it is important that these themes are subtle and secondary to the story. Reading should be fun for kids! Over the years I have received hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from young readers telling me how much they love my books and the impact that those books have had on their own lives. These letters are so inspiring and rewarding.

Does a love of reading in one’s childhood help when writing for children as an adult? Do you ever look back at childhood favourites and do they stand the test of time?

I believe that extensive reading makes you a far better writer. Most authors I know have always been voracious readers, and the books we loved as children influence our creativity and imaginations as adults. My favourite books as a child have definitely stood the test of time such as the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, The Famous Five by Enid Blyton, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner, or stories by Roald Dahl. These books still inspire me, with characters that you fall in love with, exotic settings, enthralling stories, humour, and adventure.

Who are some fantastic children’s writers? Other than yourself of course!

Australia has some wonderful children’s authors who are writing brilliant books. Some of my favourite Aussie kids’ writers are Jacqueline Harvey (Alice Miranda, Kensy and Max), John Flanagan (Ranger’s Apprentice, Brotherband), RA Spratt (Nanny Piggins, Friday Barnes), Deborah Abela (The Kindness Project, The Book of Wondrous Possibilities), AL Tait (Mapmaker Chronicles), Tim Harris (Mr Bambuckles Remarkables), Tristan Bancks (Cop and Robber, Two Wolves), Louise Parks (Grace’s Escape), Kristin Darrell (Football Fever) and my sister Kate Forsyth (The Impossible Quest, The Puzzle Ring). Of course, there are so many more!!

Belinda Murrell worked as a travel writer and journalist before becoming the award-winning author of more than 35 books, ranging from picture books and junior fiction to adult non-fiction. Belinda’s books include The Golden Tower and The Silver Sea, popular series The Sun SwordLulu Bell and Pippa’s Islandhistorical novels The Ivory Rose, The Locket of Dreams, The Forgotten Pearl and The Lost Sapphire and an adult non-fiction bibliomemoir, Searching for Charlotte. 

Accolades include Honour Book KOALAS, shortlisted nine times for YABBA (Young Australians Best Book Award), CBCA Notable 2012 and 2017 and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards. In 2018, Belinda won the KOALA Legend award for her contribution to Australian children’s literature and in 2023 won the Society of Women Writers Di Yerbury Award, a three month residency in the UK. Her latest junior fiction series is The Daredevil Princess, about a brave little girl solving mysteries in the Queendom of Blumenfield together with a very sassy unicorn.

Enrol now in Online Feedback: Children’s Books with Belinda Murrell, online from Monday 15 July to Friday 22 November.

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