Wendy Orr grew up in Canada, France, USA and UK before moving to Australia when she was twenty-one. Wendy was a compulsive reader from an early age and wrote stories throughout her childhood. In 1993 she resigned from her position as an occupational therapist to become a full-time writer, and an hour later heard that her novel Leaving It To You had been shortlisted in the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards. Ark in the Park won the award two years later, followed by an Honour Book Award and overseas success for Peeling the Onion. Wendy now lives in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and, along with her husband, is busy trying to restore their few acres of bush to its natural state as a home for wildlife.
When did you start writing?
‘When I was seven years old – but a serious attempt at publication waited until 1986.’
What are you reading at the moment?
‘Uranus, by Marcel Aymé, a brilliant novel that I just happened to pick up at a white elephant stall, simply because it was in French. (I learned to read in French before English, and still enjoy reading it when I can find books.) Uranus was written and set in France immediately after WWII. It’s a horrendous time, and the novel is very much about hypocrisy, but the acute observation of humanity keeps it from being depressing. Before that I read The Help, also truly wonderful, and in between I revisited Anna Fienberg’s glorious picture book, The Hottest Boy who ever Lived, illustrated by Kim Gamble. Next on my list is Parallel Visions, a YA ebook by Canadian writer Cheryl Rainfield. I guess you could say I read eclectically, but really it’s just whatever happens my way.’
What are best and worst things about being a writer?
‘Best: the fun of making a living by doing what you want and living out stories in your imagination. Worst: the sheer terror of wondering whether you’re going to make a living by doing what you want next year.’
When you’re not writing, what do you do?
‘Sometimes it seems that there’s almost no time when I’m not writing (or talking about it at a school or festival – always a lot of fun). I’m trying to set a new rule that I don’t have to work on weekends, but so far there’s always been a reason to break it. However my dog ensures that we go out for a walk twice a day, and on the weekends one of those walks is usually on the beach. I do tai chi, sing with a community choir, and try to make sure I catch up with friends for coffee every couple of weeks.'
What inspires you?
‘The human spirit and our capacity for forgiveness and regeneration.’
The success of the film of Nim’s Island has just been followed up by Return to Nim’s Island, inspired by Nim at Sea and starring Bindi Irwin. What's that been like for you?
‘The whole Nim journey has been amazing. It’s taken me around the world, from India to the USA, and in another sense, into that even more foreign world of Hollywood and film. I couldn’t have asked for better book to film experiences. And it’s even better with Return to Nim’s Island being an Australian film, because I couldn’t have dreamed up anyone more suited to play Nim than Bindi Irwin. It’s also fun that this time I’ll be in Australia when it opens and be able to enjoy seeing it with enthusiastic friends.
What is your proudest moment?
‘After giving birth to my children, hearing that my first book was to be published – though I’d have to say that walking Nim’s Hollywood Red Carpet at the Graumann’s Chinese Theater, with Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler and Abigail Breslin, was the most overwhelmingly exciting moment of my professional life. But on a daily basis, it’s the letters I get from readers, telling me that one of my books has inspired them or got them through a dark part of their lives. It moves me to tears, every time.’