Q&A with Alison Lester

Alison Lester is a legend of Australian children’s literature and her books have been loved by millions of children and adults over many years. A play of her beloved classic Magic Beach is being performed at Melbourne Arts Centre from May 19-22 and we caught up with Alison on the cusp of this production.

Magic Beach was published over 30 years ago, but it is still one of your most popular books and a favourite in our bookshops. How does it feel to have this book now transformed into a stage play and given a whole new interpretation?

It’s so exciting (and an honour) to see it on the stage. I love Finegan’s interpretation.

You are both a writer and an illustrator in many of your books. What comes first, the words or the illustrations or do they evolve in tandem?

The words and pictures pretty much develop together and are often in my head for a long time before I write or draw anything on paper. I always start scribbling on paper before I put anything into a digital file.


Your books have such an imaginative sense of freedom, curiosity and love of nature. Can you tell us a bit about your own childhood and how it has impacted so much upon the books that you create?

I was the youngest of four and we lived on a farm so I had a huge amount of freedom and the space to roam and adventure. I think that in turn gave me the freedom to dream and imagine. I love the natural world and it’s constantly changing wonders and I guess that shows in my books.

Horses have such a strong presence in so many of your books, including some of my personal favourites, Noni the Pony, Running with the Horses, Horse Crazy, and the books for older readers, The Quicksand Pony and The Snow Pony. You obviously know and love horses very well. Can you tell us a bit about your lifelong relationship with horses and how that finds its way into your stories?

It’s hard to explain why horsey people love horses. It seems we are just born that way. I’ve always had a horse. Since I got Inky from Santa when I was five there’s been Tammy, Blue, Benny Fox, Woollyfoot, Fleabag and Jack, with a few forgettable nags in between. My own kids had ponies and horses and now we have ponies for the grandkids. I love riding but I love caring for them too. It’s pretty incredible to share a bond of trust and affection with such a big animal.

You have done collaborations with some incredible authors, as well as with children from around Australia, particularly those in hospital, and in remote communities who may never have had access to an author before. Do you have a favourite book created from one of these collaborations?

I love a lot of these books and they always bring back happy memories of people and places. No Way Yirrikipayi by kids from Milikapiti school in the Tiwi islands, published by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is a cracker. I can still see the little kid who yelled out the title when I asked what the Tiwi word for crocodile was.

The Silver Sea by kids at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital with my friend Jane Godwin is another beauty.

There are many books that have stayed in communities too, sometimes just one big handmade edition, sometimes a dozen copies printed on a printer we’ve brought with us. Cupboard Man from Groote Island is about an old maths teachers coat who turns a class of kids into awesome maths geniuses (also with Jane Godwin).

Can you tell us a bit about your next book, which is a picture book coming out with University of Queensland Press later this year?

A Tiny Light was inspired by a little handmade book my mother-in-law made when she was a small girl about a friendly sprite called Aunt Milly who came down from the stars at night. I found it in a chest of her things a few years ago and couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

It’s important to leave a tiny light on when you go to bed at night so, ‘Twinkles from the Milky Way can find you when they come to play.’ It’s about feeling part of the universe, connected to the stars and planets while sleeping all night long.

The play of Magic Beach is on at the Melbourne Arts Centre from May 19-22. Find out more here.

Magic Beach 30th Anniversary Edition

Magic Beach 30th Anniversary Edition

Alison Lester

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