Getting to know our shortlisted authors: A. L. Tait

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to the six shortlisted authors on the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2015. Who are they? Where do their ideas come from? What do they love to read? What do they love to snack on?

We hope you’ll share these mini interviews with your children.



A.L. Tait is the author of The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World and the newly released second book in that series, Prisoner of the Black Hawk. She lives on the south coast of NSW with her family.

Allison is widely published as a journalist and has written two works of non-fiction, including Career Mums. Race to the End of the World, published by Hachette, was her debut novel. Our reviewer said: ‘Not since Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest series has there been such an exciting adventure tale from an Australian author.’

1. What were you like as a kid?

I think the best word to use would be ‘self-contained’. I was a skinny, freckled, ballet-dancing redhead who loved reading and topped the spelling tests week in, week out. Your basic nightmare.

2. When did you first want to be a writer?

I get asked this question at every school talk I do, and I really want to answer, ‘Since I was born’. The truth is, however, that I sort of didn’t realise I could be a writer. I thought it was something that other, clever people did. I used to write at school and I was good at it, but it wasn’t until I found myself working as a secretary at a magazine publishing company at the age of 19 that it occurred to me that I could be that kind of writer. So I wangled my way into a cadetship. Writing features satisfied my writing urges until around my mid-twenties, when I could no longer fight the fact that I wanted to write fiction.

3. How did The Mapmaker Chronicles begin?

The Mapmaker Chronicles series sprang from two conversations I had with my oldest son, now 11 and a great fan of the head-hurting question. One night, when he was 9, we were out in the garden, looking out at the huge, dark sky, having a ‘moment’ and (I thought) admiring the twinkling stars, when he turned to me and asked, ‘Mum, how far does space go?’

My mind immediately filled with images of the never-ending vastness of space and the never-ending questions that would result if I even attempted an answer, so I muttered, ‘Nobody knows. We should Google that.’ And inside we went.

The next night, we were reading a Horrible Histories book and he turned to me again and asked, ‘Mum, how did they map the world?’ This time, there was a little more reasoning behind his question - I have long been a fan of maps and have many books and prints. He has strong memories of being dragged around map exhibitions, being forced to admire the sea monster drawings.

‘They had to go,’ I answered. ‘They had to get in ships and go out and see what was there.’ And then, struck by a moment of parental genius, I added, ‘They would have felt exactly the way we feel when we stare out into space, with no idea of where it all ended, or what was out there.’

In that moment, I saw a race to map the world and a boy who really didn’t want to go.

4. How did the book get its contract?

I am an author who writes a lot of different things – non-fiction, features, fiction for adults, fiction for children. I had finished a project and sent it to my agent, who asked me what I thought I might do next. We discussed the pros and cons of a new fiction project, and she asked me if I had any ideas for children. ‘Well,’ I said. ‘I’ve got this random idea about mapmakers.’

At that stage, it was still just an idea, having been put on the backburner while I finished my other project. She asked me to send her an outline, which I did not have. I told her I’d just write the book so that we could both see what it might be.

So I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2012, then printed it out and read it to my son (who told me where the ‘boring bits’ were). The next step was to redraft it (sans boring bits), and then I handed it over it to my agent, who sent it out. Fortunately for me, Suzanne O'Sullivan, my terrific publisher at Hachette Australia, picked it up.

5. What is your favourite scene in the book?

Oh, that’s a difficult question! I love the first scene between Ajax and Quinn, where Ajax shows him how to open a door from the wrong side. My husband John is a builder and he’s particularly proud of his technical input into that scene. But I also love the scenes between Quinn and Ash. Theirs is such a strong friendship and they complement each other so well.

6. What were some of your favourite books when you were a kid?

I loved Callie’s Castle by Ruth Park, the story of a girl who wants her own room. It left me with a turret fixation for the rest of my life. Storm Boy by Colin Thiele made me weep buckets, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I re-read The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race by Morris Lurie about 1000 times (and have since read to both my boys who also loved it). And then everything you can think of in the mystery genre - Trixie Belden, Encylopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The Famous Five. When I got a bit older, I became a fan of The Lord Of The Rings, and it’s a devotion that stays strong today.

7. What was the last book you loved?

The last book I loved - and I truly loved it with my whole heart - was Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. A wonderful story told in so many perfect sentences.

8. If you won the Readings Children’s Book Prize, who is the first person you would tell and how would you celebrate?

It would be difficult, because I’d be incoherent with excitement. First to get the news would be Scout, my border collie, because he would be closest. I would ring my partner John and babble at him, and then would race around the corner to my mum and dad’s house for a spot of familial happy dancing. I think the best people to tell, though, would be my sons - nobody gets as excited as boys in the under-12 age group.

9. What is your ultimate ambition as a writer?

To keep writing. Writing is my happy place, and who doesn’t want to stay in their happy place forever?

10. And finally, what is your preferred writing snack?

I spend so much time at my desk that I try not to snack while I’m here. Having said that, I do find the lure of salt and vinegar chips particularly difficult to resist.

The six books on the shortlist can be purchased together at a special discounted price by clicking here. Books can be purchased individually here. All the books are available in store.

Find out more about the Readings Children’s Book Prize here.

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Race To The End Of The World (The Mapmaker Chronicles, Book 1)

Race To The End Of The World (The Mapmaker Chronicles, Book 1)

A. L. Tait

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