1. Congratulations on the series going international. I was just looking at the UK fan website and they seem to be loving the series. Great covers too! What is it like to be an international superstar?
It’s pretty surreal to think of all the places where my books are starting to appear. But honestly, life for me continues pretty much as normal. I still get up and go to school three days a week. I still sit down with my iPad every day and bash out the next page of the next book. I still drive to church every weekend in my second-hand car. But every now and then I’ll get an email from someone halfway around the world and I’ll remember just how incredible it is that I get to do this job!
2. When did you discover you were a writer?
I guess I’ve just been writing ever since I learned how. I’ve got stories all the way back to age five or six, mostly featuring dinosaurs and/or spaceships. Actually getting published always seemed like a bit of an impossible dream, but writing for the fun of it is something I’ve loved pretty much forever.
3. The Phoenix Files is quite an ambitious series not only in its length but it is jam packed with action and loaded with an assortment of twists and turns. Are you a planner when it comes to writing or do you just go with the flow?
I’m definitely a planner. So much of The Phoenix Files is about mystery and the unknown that I’d feel like I was ripping the reader off if I didn’t have a pretty solid idea of where it was all going.
Before I even started on the first draft of the first book, I sat down and came up with a pretty detailed outline of the whole series. Some details of the plot have changed a bit in the writing, but as I sit down to write the
final book in the series, it’s quite gratifying to realise how much things have gone according to plan.
4. Some of your fans have said how frustrating it is that you always leave things on a spectacular cliffhanger, leaving them desperate for the next book. Are you going to be able to wrap everything up in the last book or are we all going to be cursing you for the rest of our lives?
I’m going to do my absolute best to wrap up all of the major threads of the story. Part of this means not leaving everything hanging until the last book. Fallout, the second-last book in the series, has just gone to print, and it answers a few of the really big questions that have been hanging over the series since the beginning.
But of course, I’ve still left myself with plenty to do in the final book.
The one thing I’ve never had to do in The Phoenix Files is write an ending. As you say, so far it’s been cliffhanger after cliffhanger, so this is a new challenge for me – but it’s one I’ve really been enjoying, and I hope you’ll all be satisfied with the results!
5. Do you think working as a teacher and being constantly surrounded by kids has helped you tap into what the kids want to read?
The kids I teach are mainly in years K-2, so there’s actually very little overlap between my teaching and my writing. So if I’ve succeeded in tapping into the teenage mind, I think that’s probably got more to do with the part of me that’s still very teenagerish.
I never sit down and think to myself, “What would kids think is fun to read?” because I think that’s a sure-fire way to end up sounding really lame and artificial. Instead, I ask myself, “What would I think is fun to
read?” and I just go ahead and write that.
6. Have you modelled any of the characters on yourself or people you know?
I think all the characters have a little bit of me in them. Luke’s got my tendency to worry too much. Jordan’s got my strong-mindedness and fierce sense of right and wrong. And I’d say Peter’s a pretty solid metaphor for the darkness that I think all of us have inside of us.
I try to avoid modelling characters directly on people I know. Given the dangerous world of Phoenix, I think that could be a fast-track to getting myself into trouble!
7. Jordan is my favourite character. So nice to see a strong, adventurous female as a major player in the storyline. It is still rare to find such a fun, feisty female. Why do you think the boys seem to still have all the fun?
I think other people are probably better equipped than I am to answer the question of why boys get so much more attention, but the lack of strong female characters in kids’ and YA fiction was certainly on my mind as I was coming up with Jordan. I work part-time at a Sydney girls’ school, and I really wanted to create a hero for them – someone who wasn’t a superhero, but who was intelligent and courageous and morally-centred. She’s my favourite character too!
8. How close do you get to your characters? Is it like a nine to five job where you can shut off at the end of the day or do they haunt you long into the night?
I can get pretty emotionally invested in the characters while I’m actually writing, but once the iPad is put away for the day, I’m usually pretty good at leaving them behind. I have heaps of fun writing the characters I’ve created, but I’m not one of those authors who imagines secret lives for them that bleed off the page.
9. You are over half way through the series. Can you imagine not living with these characters?
It’s pretty surreal to think that, by this time next year, the series will be finished. That said, I’ve known all along that it was going to be six book and out, so I’ve had a while to brace myself. I think there’ll be a real sense of accomplishment that comes with wrapping the series up, but I can imagine there’ll also be a bit of a withdrawal period when it’s all done and dusted.
10. We are all massive Chris Morphew fans at Shearer's because not only do we all love The Phoenix Files, but also you are always great with talking to the kids. You are on Facebook, Twitter, you have a blog where you talk to the kids... Do you think it is important to be so accessible?
That's my favourite part of the job! To me, the whole point of writing issharing ideas with people – and Facebook, Twitter, blogging, writers' festivals, etc. are all just extensions of that conversation.
On top of that, I'm more than happy to do what little I can to break down our culture's weird obsession with fame. Not that I'm claiming to have any sort of actual "celebrity" status, but to whatever extent people are tempted to view me as a Special Famous Person, I like to do what I can to talk them out of it.
11. Where did you get that amazing yellow jacket that appears in a lot of press release photos?
Ha! That jacket was a present from my sister. She’d been travelling through south-east Asia for several weeks, and I got a Facebook message saying, “Send me your measurements. I’ve got a surprise.” Two weeks later, she came home with The Suit.
12. Is yellow your favourite colour because I have also seen that magnificent yellow car that you drive?
No, that’s just a happy coincidence – although it does make figuring out where I parked a whole lot easier!
13. What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Michael Grant’s two newest titles: Fear and BZRK, which were both as dark and gross and gripping as you might expect if you’ve read any of the Gone series. I’ve also just this week finished reading the whole Bible through, cover to cover, which has been fascinating.
As always, I’ve got a huge stack of books waiting to be read. Top of the pile at the moment is the complete Lord of the Rings, which I am determined to actually finish this time.
14. As a writer and a reader, does the eBook phenomenon excite you or bore you?
I really don’t think about it too much. Personally, I’d much rather hold a physical book in my hands than read a novel from a screen, but that’s mostly just personal preference. As long as people keep reading books in one form or another – which I’m sure they will – the format they choose really doesn’t bother me.