Q & A with Emily Rodda
Emily Rodda reflects on Rowan and the world he inhabits. Interview by Jane Campbell, Editor of Classroom Magazine.
Jane Campbell: It is nearly ten years since you wrote the first book in the Rowan series. Was it hard to come back to Rin?
Emily Rodda: It wasn't hard at all. The final mystery is solved in book five. I had the whole story in my mind when I first started on Rowan of Rin and I've been working up to this last book for ten years.
JC: Did you find that your writing style had changed over the years?
ER: I think the later Rowan books, Rowan and the Zebak and Rowan of the Bukshah, have more action in them. The other elements are the same. They're probably a bit faster moving. My own children have obviously grown older and I have been affected by what they like to read. In the interim, I've written Deltora Quest, and the enormous feedback I got from that made me try to keep sentences reasonably brief and to keep the action going. Rowan of the Bukshah is also quite a bit longer than the others and this worried me at first. But then I thought that it is the last one and I wanted to make sure it is just right. I had a lot of story to tell. I hope everyone likes it. The Rowan books have always been very special to me. I love that world.
JC: This latest book it called Rowan and the Bukshah. We met the bukshah in the very first page of the first book, Rowan of Rin. It sounds as though this book completes the circle.
ER: In this fifth book we come back to Rin. The story is taken back to its roots. At the beginning of the first book Rowan is called 'Rowan of the bukshah' because that is what he does but by the end of the book people are calling him 'Rowan of Rin' because he saved the village. He's seen as a broader figure. In the fifth book, because of circumstance, he comes back to his original role—what is important to him—he is the keeper of the bukshah. I've always loved the bukshah and found them very fascinating. The bukshah have actually been around longer than anybody else in this story. They are wild animals that have almost been domesticated. They play a key part in this last book.
JC: 'Bukshah' is a great word. It immediately puts the reader in a different setting.
ER: It's both familiar and unfamiliar. That's what I wanted it to be. It's the same with the people's names. I wanted them to be familiar but different enough so that you'd know that this wasn't your world; this was another world but very like yours. And on a very practical level, I wanted the names to be very easy for the children to pronounce. Often in fantasy books the names are very, very complicated.
JC: The rhyme is also a very important element in each book. How do you think of them?
ER: I work out the story first. To write the rhyme, I decide on what the clue is to be then I write it out in prose, and then I write a rhyme to fit the prose I've written. The kids really like it and often send me their own when they write to me. I love it when they do that! It's one of the nicest things.
JC: Did you worry about getting Rowan of Rin published?
ER: At the time that I wrote it, I really didn't think that anyone would like it. Well, I thought kids would like it. I wasn't sure if my publishers at Omnibus would like it, nor did I think that a lot of adults who were into kids' books would approve because it was set totally in a fantasy world.
JC: Fantasy books weren't common in the early 90s, were they? At that time there were a lot of 'issue' books around.
ER: It was unusual to have books that were set in a totally different world. I'd written fantasy before and won awards for them but the main characters had lived in a 'normal' home situation. They left their contemporary setting and travelled to a fantasy world; like the Alice in Wonderland model, if you like. Rowan was a real departure. I felt rather naughty and adventurous because I had thrown everything aside. I think this was my first deliberate attempt to write just for children. I was so enamoured with the world of Rin that when I sent it to Omnibus, I said to the publishers that you might not like this book but if you want to publish it just bear in mind that I want to write others. Fortunately they came back and said they loved it. They loved the character of the boy and the whole thing.
JC: Well, Rowan is very appealing. He is a hero with a twist, he's not perfect.
ER: A Japanese journalist interviewed me recently and he said it's one of the things that Japanese children love—he is not in the traditional hero mould.
JC: He's an inspiring character because he is a weakling physically yet he can save an entire village.
ER: He's going his own way. We're all strong in some way. Another thing is that when something is really important most of us can rise to the occasion. Everyone has their talent, everyone has something to contribute and you don't have to be a great, tough, outgoing, obviously strong, person to be able to do wonderful things. You can do wonderful things whatever you look like and however strong you are. It's what inside you—it's the strength of character that counts, not the strength of the body. This sounds obvious but it isn't always clear to children when they are younger. Being the same as the group isn't always the best thing to be.
JC: I think it must be good for kids to realise that you don't have to be big and strong and 'perfect' to succeed.
ER: Yes. Then the challenge, really, was writing the subsequent books. Rowan would have gained a lot of respect from the people in Rin and he will therefore be treated differently so you can't put him back into the same situation. On the other hand, he's still the same person. I'm pleased with the way he develops. He does gain in maturity and confidence but he still has doubts and he still feels like a bit of a fraud. He gets upset and worried if people think that he has magic powers because he knows he hasn't any. I think he gains a lot of dignity throughout the series and I'm pleased the way he ends up in Rowan and the Bukshah.
JC: Now that you've written your fifth story about Rowan, is this goodbye to him?
ER: Theoretically. I have told the story that I thought of ten years ago. I am quite happy to now let him live his life without me chronicling it. At the same time I don't want to make some sort of great final announcement because I am fond of that world. Who knows what I'll do because if a really good idea occurs to me and it's better set in Rin than anywhere else then I might think about it. But I do feel satisfied with the way it is now. I feel as though I've completed the circle. It's also good to move on and do something different.
JC: You've written Murder Call for television. Could you ever imagine Rowan becoming a movie?
ER: It is under option. They are working on about the third draft now and I think it's being taken to America in April to try to raise the last of the money. It would cost a lot to make because of the special effects.
JC: Would you have any control over it?
ER: They've been very good about consulting me. I'm sure they'll listen to me even though it's not in the contract.
JC: One big advantage about reading a book is that you can use your own imagination.
ER: It's funny, you know. When I first saw The Lord of the Rings—I loved the book—Froddo looked so different from what I'd imagined that I couldn't enjoy the first film as much as I felt I should. I'd got to used to him by the second film so didn't have so much trouble.
JC: You can also put more in a book.
ER: One of the things that I like about Rowan is that you can see his thought processes. You can see how he works things out. You can't do that in a movie. It's more action, less thought.
JC: Have you always had a good imagination? You must have!
ER: I have. I've always wanted to write stories. I've always loved reading and I've always imagined. It's been a huge part of my life. In fact too much sometimes! I have all sorts of wild fancies and fears. What's under the bed?! I love intrigue. I'm interested in human goings-on and always have been.
Thank you to Jane Campbell and Classroom Magazine for permission to use this interview.