Getting to know our shortlisted authors: Karen Foxlee

Over the last few weeks we’ve been introducing you to the six shortlisted authors on the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2015. (Meet the other five authors here, here and here.) 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.


karenfoxlee Karen Foxlee lives in Gympie and worked most of her life as a nurse. Now she’s the author of two young adult novels: The Anatomy of Wings and The Midnight Dress. Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy is her first novel for 8-12 year olds.

We’re thrilled to hear that Karen has written another book for this age group, A Most Magical Girl, which will be published early next year. Set in Victorian England, it’s about two young girls pitted against each other to rescue a sacred wand from a dangerous underworld that exists beneath London, facing trolls, a dragon and a wall of faerie bones along the way. The story sounds like it’s bound to appeal to the many fans of Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.

1. What were you like as a kid?

I was very shy but I had an amazing imagination. I was always writing something, making something, designing something, planning some incredibly impossible fantasy adventure. My mother was very nurturing of this although it must have been so frustrating! My daughter is the same. She would construct a castle out of toilet rolls, write a story and put on a play before breakfast if I let her!

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

I can distinctly remember telling other kids in grade two that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I had written my first story about a girl and a horse. It was published in a little purple exercise book. I wrote lots more, illustrating them with pictures from the back of Reader’s Digest magazines. I never really gave up writing from that point on.

3. How did Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy begin?

I was struggling with a grown-up book I was meant to be writing so I had a break and started writing Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy. To start off with I was just thinking about all the amazing museums I’ve visited over the years. I love the mystery of museums. I love thinking about all the stuff that might be hidden out the back – what treasures must be kept there! Then I started wondering, as you do, about what would happen if you found or saw something in a museum that you weren’t meant to… something locked away, hidden away, like a magical boy! The story started from there.

4. What is your favourite scene in the book?

I have a lot of favourite scenes. I still can cry over some of the conversations between Ophelia and her mother. Probably my favourite scene is when Ophelia is wandering in the museum and letting her feet take her wherever they will and she finds that strange room and peeks through the keyhole and finds…

5. How did the book get its contract?

I showed it to my agent. I was terrified because it was a departure from anything I’d written before. Fortunately she saw the potential in it and encouraged me to keep working on it. It went from there to my editor at Knopf in New York, Erin Clarke. She really loved it. I can’t tell you how happy I was!

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

Fairy tales. Our mum read to us from a book of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. I can remember weeping along with my siblings at the end of ‘The Little Mermaid’. Really and truly, sobbing uncontrollably! We would read it over and over just to re-experience the sorrow of it! I think I fell in love with literature then. The power of it.

There was also lots of Famous Five, Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz series. Later on I loved The Princess and the Goblin, Z for Zachariah, The Little Prince, and The Nargun and the Stars to name a few.

7. What was the last book you loved?

I recently read Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost and I really loved it. It was beautifully written and I cried a ridiculous amount. Now I’m reading A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and really enjoying it.

8. What is your ultimate ambition as a writer?

I just want to keep improving. I want to keep learning, discovering new ways to make lovely stories, and to get the stories out of my heart and onto the page.

9. If you won the RCBP, who is the first person you would tell and how would you celebrate?

I would usually always tell my mum my great news but she passed away late last year after a short battle with leukaemia. I’d tell her in my mind anyway. Then I’d ring my sister Sonia and we’d probably get together and celebrate with a cup of tea and cake. Other family and friends would follow!

10. What is your preferred writing snack?

I really like cake. My favourite is carrot cake (homemade) but if that isn’t available I’ll also do a very simple iced chocolate cake taken with coffee around 10ish while writing. It helps a lot, I find!

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.