I grew up in a big, old house full of books and animals, on the North Shore of Sydney. As a child, I was a voracious reader, often staying up half the night reading under the covers with a torch. My sister and I would dress up as book characters and play their exciting escapades.
My favourite books as a child included the Narnia series, the Famous Five, The Hobbit, Seven Little Australians, Little Women, Nancy Drew and anything about horses. I loved the magical feeling of escaping into another world, having fantastical experiences and meeting fascinating characters who became beloved friends.
So I guess that is why I loved making up my own stories so much. My mum always encouraged us to write poems, plays, stories and novels, which I hand wrote in exercise books. I kept writing all through school and university, then worked as a corporate writer and travel journalist.
I think I was very lucky to come from a book-mad family, and this is perhaps why my sister, Kate Forsyth and my brother Nick Humphrey are also best-selling authors. Or perhaps it is because writing is in our blood! The history of writers in my family goes back nearly two hundred years. My great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Waring Atkinson wrote the first children’s book published in Australia, called A Mother’s Offering to her Children, back in 1841. Her husband James Atkinson wrote his first book on Australia in 1826, while their daughter Louisa was the first Australian-born female journalist and novelist. It’s a fascinating history and one I’m very proud of!
Ten Things You Don’t Know About me
1) My favourite icecream flavour is coffee.
2) My character Rosie in Lulu Bell is named after my white Welsh Mountain pony when I was a child. (and yes, now we have a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog called Rosie too!)
3) We have a pet snake called Sammy, who lives in a tank on the kitchen bench.
4) My three kids were home schooled (or caravan schooled!!) for two years while our family travelled around Europe and explored Australia in a caravan.
5) My favourite things to do (other than writing!) are walk on the beach, swim in the sea, ski with my kids, ride my horse Nutmeg at my brother’s farm, read books of all kinds, daydream stories, and travel the world with my family having all kinds of amazing adventures.
6) As well as working as a writer for many years, I have also worked as a vet nurse, grape- picker, TAFE teacher, waitress in an Austrian ski resort and a stable girl on a Bavarian farm.
7) When I was a kid I desperately wanted a pet monkey. While I never managed to have a pet monkey in real life, I have managed to create a couple of fantastic monkey characters in my books!
8) I have lived in some beautiful, exotic locations including a tiny cottage in a Portuguese fishing village, a terrace in London, a wooden chalet in the Austrian Alps, a barn in southern France, a cattle farm on the old East German border, and with an Aboriginal family on the Dampier Peninsula in the far north of Western Australia.
9) As well as my brother and sister being best-selling authors, my three kids are also mad keen writers, so writing is definitely in the blood.
10) In 2019 my book The Forgotten Pearl, was shortlisted for the Young Australian Best Book of the Year award (YABBAs) and the Kids Own Australian Literature Award (KOALAs). I’m so proud that this is the eighth time one of my books has been short-listed for these fabulous awards, when thousands of Aussie kids vote for their very favourite book. In 2017, my sister Kate was also shortlisted for her fantastic series The Impossible Quest. This was the first time in history that two sisters have been shortlisted together for a major Australian literary award. YAY!!!
Official Biography for Belinda Murrell
At about the age of eight, Belinda Murrell began writing stirring tales of adventure, mystery and magic in hand illustrated exercise books. As an adult, she combined two of her great loves – writing and travelling the world – and worked as a travel journalist, technical writer and public relations consultant. Now, inspired by her own three children, Belinda is a bestselling, internationally published children’s author with a history of writing in her family that spans over 200 years. Her previous titles include four picture books, her fantasy adventure series The Sun Sword trilogy and her seven time-slip adventures, The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Ivory Rose, The Forgotten Pearl, The River Charm, The Sequin Star, and The Lost Sapphire. These books have been recognised by various awards, including Honour Book KOALAS 2013, shortlisted eight times for the Young Australians Best Book Award (YABBA), CBCA Notable List 2012 and 2017 and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards.
For younger readers (aged 6 to 9) Belinda has the popular Lulu Bell series about friends, family and animal adventures growing up in a vet hospital. Her new middle grade series is called Pippa’s Island, about starting a new life on a tropical island, finding your courage and the best group of friends you could wish for.
Belinda’s books have been published in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, UK, Turkey, South Africa and Brazil, with the Lulu Bell series translated into Afrikaans, Turkish and Portuguese. Belinda is regularly involved in events to promote children’s literacy for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), the Premier’s Reading Challenge and is an author ambassador for Books in Homes and Room to Read.
Belinda lives in Manly in a gorgeous old house overlooking the sea with her husband Rob, her three beautiful children – Nick, Emily and Lachlan, and her dog Rosie. Her website is www.belindamurrell.com.au
Awards and Shortlistings
- 2018 KOALA Legend Award
- CBCA Notable Book 2012 and 2017
- Honour Book 2013 KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Award)
- Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2012 Highly Commended
- Shortlisted for KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards), YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Award), COOL Awards 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019
- Shortlisted WAYBRA – West Australian Young Readers Awards 2011, 2013, 2014, 2019
- Shortlisted Speech Pathology Book of the Year 2010 & 2012
- Shortlisted Girl Book of the Year 2013 (K-zone & Total Girl magazines)
- Shortlisted Davitt Crime fiction Awards 2012
- Premiers Reading Challenge 2009-2019
- Shortlisted 2015 and 2018 Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature
Q&A – Kids Ask Questions
I love getting letters, emails, photos and artwork from kids. Over the years I’ve received literally hundreds and hundreds from kids all around Australia and overseas, telling me how much they love my books and asking all sorts of questions. Lots of kids have also interviewed me for assignments, projects and school newsletters. Here are some of these questions asked by kids with my answers.
How did you become an author?
About twelve years ago, I began writing stories for my own three children – Nick, Emily and Lachlan. One of these was a fantasy story, filled with all the things that my kids loved about books – codes and puzzles, mystery, magic and adventure. Four children set off on a dangerous quest to save their family, save their land and find the royal sun sword. It took me two years to write the book, and when it was finished I sent it to Random House to see if they might be interested in publishing it. I was absolutely thrilled when they not only said yes, but offered me a three book contract. That series – my Sun Sword Trilogy was a best-seller, released in the USA and still sells really well, and I have gone on to write more than 30 books since then.
What do you think makes a good character in a book?
I think it is so important for characters to be believable – to seem like real people, rather than stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs. I want my readers to really care about my characters so they are totally engaged in their story. To create this it is so important for the characters to be complex, interesting and to have flaws (after all no-one is perfect!). Some of my favourite characters are quirky, unconventional, feisty and inspiring. It is also important that the characters learn from their experiences and change as the book or series progresses.
What do you love most about being an author?
Definitely seeing children love my work! Getting emails from children saying that was the best book I’ve ever read! Watching a boy walk down the street and bump into a lightpost because he was reading one of my books!
How long does it usually take you to write a book?
It takes me about a year to write a time slip book like The Forgotten Pearl or The Lost Sapphire. I spend about three to four months doing the research, about three to four months writing the book, another two months editing the book and when the new book comes out I spend about two months on tour – visiting schools, doing signings at bookshops, speaking at festivals and doing media interviews – so it keeps me very busy!!
Can you describe your workspace?
I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Rosie keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. It is a gorgeous place to work.
What was your favourite childhood novel?
When I was growing up, the book that most fired my imagination was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I loved its enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. My sister and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.
Why do you base the time slip series on jewellery?
I think because when my grandmother used to tell me stories as a child, sometimes she would link the story to an old piece of jewellery like a locket or a bracelet and tell the story of the person who originally owned the jewellery. In the old days, people might not have photographs or paintings of their loved ones, so when they died all that was left were the stories they told and perhaps a precious heirloom of jewellery.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be and why?
I always wanted to be a vet, like my Dad, when I was growing up. My sister Kate always had a very clear idea she was going to be a writer, from quite a young age. Kate and I grew up writing together, strongly encouraged by my mother, and it was something we did for fun. If someone was coming for dinner mum would always say ‘Why don’t you write them a poem?’
I remember from the age of seven or eight, filling exercise books with my stories, poems, plays and illustrations. My early writing was heavily influenced by my favourite authors such as Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis.
How do you get such great ideas for your stories?
I get my ideas from everywhere around me – from my children, from my own travel adventures, from incidents that happened to me as a child, from stories people tell me or information I read. Anything can spark the seed of an idea, which my imagination then grows into a story.
For example, my Lulu Bell series is about a girl growing up living in a vet hospital, just as I did as a child. However it is set in a fictional place called Shelly Beach, which is very much based on Manly and the Northern Beaches. Lots of the adventures which Lulu Bell has with her family, friends and animals are inspired by my own children’s experiences at home, school and on holidays. This series has been hugely popular, published internationally and even translated into Afrikaans, Portuguese and Turkish which is such a thrill.
One of my greatest inspirations is receiving hundreds of emails, drawings and letters from children who love my books from as far away as Norway, Singapore and New York. Each year I meet thousands of children and I love talking with them, discussing what they enjoy about books, what interests them and intrigues them.
What genre of books do you like to read?
I read books across a wide range of genres. I have a library which literally has thousands of books! For my historical research I read lots of non-fiction, biographies, journals and old newspaper articles. For pleasure I read fantasy, adventure, historical, contemporary literature, romance, mystery and dystopian.
What is your favourite book from the time slip series and why?
The River Charm is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great- great grandmother, Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Being based on real life people, it was a very challenging book to research and to write, but of all my books, I think this is the one that I am most proud of.
What influenced you to become a writer?
My childhood was filled with books and stories, so I began writing when I was about 8 years old. I used to write poems, plays, stories and novels in exercise books that I’d illustrate by hand. It was just something I did for fun. When I was 16 and deciding what to do at university, my school teachers encouraged me to think about writing as a career, so I studied Communication and Literature. After uni, I worked for many years as a journalist and freelance travel writer. All this time, I had a dream that one day I might write a book that would be published. Then about 12 years ago, I was inspired to write books for my own three children Nick, Emily and Lachie.
How hard was it to get your first book published?
I was very lucky. I finished writing my first book – The Quest for The Sun Gem, sent it off to Random House and shortly afterwards received a phone call to ask me if I would like to sign a three book deal!! It was definitely one of the most exciting days in my life. Despite all the excitement, I couldn’t really believe it was true until I first saw my name on the cover of a book in a bookstore.
Who is your biggest role model and why?
This is a hard one! My mother and grandmother always encouraged us to be the very best we could be. My grandmother told us stories about inspiring women – like my own ancestor, the author Charlotte Atkinson who fought off murderous bushrangers, and escaped over the mountains on horseback with her four young children, her writing desk and their pet koala. Of course I also adore my sister Kate Forsyth.
She is an amazing writer and has an incredible knowledge of the publishing industry. We are also very good friends and walk together regularly along the beach, talking about writing, books and our latest plot tangles! One of the great things about my job is that I get to meet so many amazing authors from all around the world. Over the years, I’ve had the thrill of meeting authors like John Flanagan, Alison Lester, Cornelia Funke, Jacqueline Harvey, Deborah Abela, Emily Rodda, Christopher Paolini, Anna Fienberg, Jackie French, John Marsden, Kate Morton – the list goes on!
What do you think people look for in a book?
To escape into another enthralling world! To meet characters who come alive so that you really care what happens to them. I love books with a fascinating and surprising plot; exciting adventure, and language that is clear and sparkling. I also love to learn about different places, times and people.
What is your writing process? e.g. How do you get your inspirations for your characters and story plots?
Often it is an experience or an idea which is planted like a tiny seed in my imagination, and just starts to unfurl over many months. For example, I crept down through the spooky, dank tunnels under Paris filled with the bones of murdered aristocrats, and thought this would be a brilliant scene in a book… and so began the first idea for The Ruby Talisman.
I start by jotting notes in my notebook which I carry everywhere with me. I write down names, interesting details or facts, statistics, adjectives, and descriptions of setting and character. I start to dream my story into life. Once I have a fairly clear idea of what the story will be I write a summary of the plot, which I continually refer to when I get stuck.
Research is a vital component of any book and can take many months. It includes living the adventure – sailing the ocean, taking a fencing class, travelling to Scotland, living in France, riding a horse, eating a feast, creeping down tunnels….. For me it also includes a wide range of reading – history, fiction, biography, etiquette books, memoirs and folklore. And easiest of all – the internet to look up quirky details. At some stage though it is time to sit at my desk and keep writing!
What do you, personally, do when you have writer’s block?
Go for a walk. Make a cup of tea. Read my book synopsis to see where I need to go. Sit at the computer and KEEP WRITING!
Do you have any tips for kids who want to write?
I have four tips which all begin with P! They are:
Passion – write what you love. Write from your heart. Don’t try to follow trends. Write for yourself.
Persistence – there are so many writers with talent, who write extremely well. But to succeed as a writer you need bucketloads of determination and tenacity. Succeeding as a writer can only be achieved through lots of hard work over many years!
Practise – write constantly. Write every day. Take a notebook with you everywhere and fill it.
Pack your bags – travel the world and have amazing adventures. Work at various jobs, volunteer, experience life, fill your notebooks with sights, people and experiences.