Meredith Costain generously agreed to devote some of her time to answering our questions. Here she discusses how her own childhood and relationship to the arts, including literature and music, laid the foundation for her career as an author. If you'd like to read more of her wonderfully insightful answers, keep checking back! You can find part two here and part three here.
As a child, what role did books play in your home? Was reading enjoyed as entertainment?
My family also read and recited lots of poetry — particularly the verse of A A Milne and C J Dennis, and Hilaire Belloc’s hilarious Cautionary Tales for Children. So my head was always full of rhythm and rhyme — like an internal clock. My cousins and I (The Thrilling Three!) produced our own newspaper and wrote and performed highly dramatic plays for our pets.
You’ve been writing and performing music since childhood, and you’ve since traveled the world and continue to play blues piano. Tell us about how that support of the arts and culture as a child ultimately impacted your ability to become a writer as an adult.
MC: My brother and sister and I were all encouraged to learn piano, and I had ballet lessons in a dusty old scout hall (the inspiration for Ballet Backflip). We had an ancient collection of classical music records and I used to dust the lounge room while leaping about to the music from the ballet Les Sylphides.
I went to a tiny rural school and rode my bike a couple of miles there and back. Maybe it was the rhythm of the bike wheels going around . . . and around . . . and around . . . but as I rode my head filled up with stories and poems of my own. Once home I’d grab an old exercise book and pencil and race up to our haystack where it was quiet and secret and private and scribble them down. (Now that I’m ‘older,’ if I get stuck with a storyline I find the rhythm of going for a walk or a bike ride will help the words to come. Especially if it’s in rhyme!)
My mum encouraged me to send my poems off to writing competitions. I won a few in my teenage years, but the highlight was a poem I wrote when I was nine. It was published in the children’s section of the ‘big smoke’ metropolitan newspaper and they actually paid me for it! I sat in my bedroom and made a solemn vow that I would be ‘an author’ when I grew up. I even picked out a pen name for myself!