KN: Where did you come up with the idea for THE WORRY TREE?
MM: I had a whole cast of characters loosely based on my family (although my mum would like it known she never did the thing with the spaghetti Bolognese). Unfortunately, there was nothing holding the story together. Since the main character is a worrywart, I thought it would be great to give her a way of managing her worries. I was flicking through an interior design magazine one day and I saw a photo of a child's bedroom with a tree painted on the wall and animals in its branches, and so the Worry Tree was born.
KN: The vivid characters make this book a joy to read. What techniques did you use to make your characters jump off the page?
MM: I always choose a specific detail that I repeat throughout the story to remind people of who the character is, eg, Juliet has a nervous rash and a little anxious 'v' that appears between her eyebrows. This gives the reader a visual picture and also says something about the character (in this case, that she's a worrywart).
I make sure each character has a different sense of humour as this reflects the way they look at the world and distinguishes them from each other, eg, Oaf is mischievous, Nana is dry and Dad is outlandish.
KN: Above you say Juliet is a worrywart, yet she is a very attractive main character. What character traits did you include to make sure Juliet comes across as a fun person? One detail I love is the fact that she compares her initials JJJ to monkey tails, fish hooks, and umbrella handles.
MM: I spent a long time imagining I was Juliet, and then I put her in situations to see how she'd react. As she revealed herself to me, her quirky nature really stood out, eg, her obsession with her collection of used bus tickets, her book containing the number plates of anyone who'd parked in the street. She has a strong sense of justice, something children tend to relate to, and she is very caring, always worrying about other people and how she can help them. I tried to create a character readers would barrack for. Juliet finds herself in many an unjust situation but she always acts nobly and, in the end, her strength of character sees her through.
KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft of THE WORRY TREE?
MM: About a year. I had no experience of writing a novel (apart from the romantic thriller I penned, age eleven). I wrote the entire thing long hand with random scenes spread all over my bedroom floor. Over time, I shuffled them into some kind of order.
KN: Please describe your revision process for THE WORRY TREE.
MM: Ah, revision, how I loathe it, and yet it's so necessary. I wrote nineteen drafts of "The Worry Tree". I like to put my manuscript in the drawer for a couple of months. It's loosens my emotional attachment to the words so I can edit more dispassionately. Then I do a series of very specific edits, eg, I read through, paying attention to the arc of a particular character's journey or I read through only looking for typos or to make sure the continuity of the story holds true.
KN: What other books have you written that WORRY TREE readers might enjoy?
"Don't Breathe a Word" (Random House Australia) has just come out. It's a funny, realistic story about two sisters who live with their grandpa who's been acting rather strangely (he has dementia). They're afraid they'll be split up if anyone finds out so they have to keep it a secret.
"Lucy the Good" (Random House Australia) is the first in a series of books about a girl who spends an awful lot of time in the Time Out chair, though she's always surprised when it happens. Each Lucy book explores an ethical issue with much humour. The first is about what it means to be good. Next year's "Lucy the Lie Detector" will explore truth, lies, rules and the law (according to Lucy).
KN: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
MM: To download a free copy of the Worry Tree poster, you can check out my website at www.mariannemusgrove.com.au
KN: Thank you for joining us.