I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven, but it has been a long road. Even at seven I didn't suppose that people made a living from writing - it was just something you did - sort of the mirror image of reading. I think I was very lucky to grow up in a time when reading was our main source of entertainment, though our insatiable hunger for books was a problem.

I was born in Melbourne, but when I was six months old the family moved to Ararat in Western Victoria, where my father worked as an electrician. On the odd occasions when we went to Melbourne he used to take us to Halls' second-hand book shop, where we had the delicious dilemma of choosing one book each. It wasn't until I was about ten that our town got a proper library with a children's section. Even then, I read through all the girls' books and all the boys' books (yes, they had them in different sections) long before I was officially allowed to borrow adult books.

It's funny, when I talk to my contemporaries about the books we read as children, my list is about ten years behind theirs. They were getting the new books that were just being published, and I was getting the older books that appeared on the second-hand bookshop's shelves, or were donated to the library.


My sisters and I used to get hold of exercise books and immediately write, or start to write, the Great Novel. The story was always much the same, as we were just imitating the books we read: a penniless girl with tragic family background is inexplicably sent to a hoity-toity boarding school, where the other girls give her a hard time until they realise that she is amazingly talented. It was really Harry Potter without the magic.

We also liked to make theatrical scenes in old shoeboxes, and I remember making paper cutout dolls with all sorts of outlandish costumes.

When I grew up...

I fled back to Melbourne and all the excitement of being at university, where I studied English and Philosophy. As this didn't give me the skills to do anything in particular I had a few false starts and eventually qualified as a teacher, but I didn't do much of that. In my time I have been a teacher, stage manager, theatre administrator, engineering researcher, television scriptwriter and, for the longest time, a technical writer.

And now

The Tunnels of Tarcoola was centred around a very old house in Balmain. The house, Tarcoola, was in a state of disrepair and was altogether unloved, but it had a long and interesting history.

Curiously, since that book was published my husband and I have bought an even older run-down, unloved house in Balmain. One of our main projects now is to restore this house - Ashgrove - to its former state. After that, we look forward to creating a beautiful garden - it's a sea of concrete at the moment.

My new book, Crooked Leg Road, follows the further adventures of the group of children who were introduced in Tunnels. I am planning one more book in this series because we - the children and I - are not finished with Tarcoola.

My family

I have been married for a long time to Bruce Spence. He is an actor, and has done a lot of interesting things. He was the voice of Chum, one of the sharks in Finding Nemo. He was also in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. You can look him up on IMDB.

We have two kids, now grown up. Jessie is a primary school teacher who shares my love of language and my insistence that apostrophes are put in the right place, so you'd better watch out. She has a one-year-old daughter called Ariana. Tom is an IT expert who produces websites and lives with his wife Klara and three year-old daughter Sigrid in Stockholm, Sweden.

My beautiful grand-daughter Ariana is talking and trying to count. She says "one, one, one." She is loving, energetic and wildly enthusiastic about life.

My beautiful grand-daughter Sigrid speaks English and Swedish, and sorts out pretty quickly which language she should be using with the various people in her life. Both my grand-daughters love books.

Sigrid - Sia - calls me Farmor, and she calls Bruce Farfar. The other grandparents are Mormor and Morfar. It's all very sensible. It's hard to cope with her being far away in Stockholm, but it's not forever, and I quite like travelling.

To Ariana, we are Nana and Poppa.

To our great joy, our whole family met up in Sweden in August for Tom and Klara's wedding. Afterwards we had a week in Italy together - fantastic.

On previous visits to Stockholm, we have taken Sia to the Junibacken, a marvellous children's museum with exhibits, rides and games from all the favourite Swedish children's stories, especially the work of Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking. Like all Swedish children, Sia worships Pippi (as well as Dora the Explorer, Hello Kitty and Peppa Pig).

Have a look at the museum's website at http://www.junibacken.se/lang/english and you'll understand what a great place it is.

Stockholm is altogether a very family-friendly place. I recommend it highly, though I must say it's not cheap. If you want cheap - and lots to see and do - go to Berlin. One-scoop gelatos for one euro!