Monday Motivators With Sarah Armstrong

Before writing kids’ books, Sarah Armstrong was an award-winning journalist at ABC Radio, and she has published three novels for grown-ups, including Salt Rain which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Big Magic is her first kids’ novel and its sequel will be out in 2023. She lives in the northern NSW town of Mullumbimby (which features, although slightly disguised) in all her novels. 

About Big Magic:

Big Magic is about eleven-year old Tulsi who lives in a travelling circus. She comes from a long line of women magicians but her mother has always forbidden her to learn Big Magic. It’s dangerous, thrilling and powerful – and Tulsi wants it more than anything. But one hot summer’s night, a magic trick goes horribly wrong and her mother disappears. Only one person can bring her back, and that’s Tulsi.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The hardest thing was carving out the time. Although sometimes it’s a slog, figuring out plot points and making sure everything makes sense. It’s just hard holding everything in my head!  I’d call Big Magic low fantasy (ie set in the real world with a magical element) but there was still plenty of world building which was new to me as someone who’s previously written realist novels. It’s quite complicated creating rules for a new world!

How did I overcome it/what kept me going?

I had Zoom meetings with my lovely editor Luna Soo, at Hardie Grant, where we nutted out some of the world building stuff. And I got out my roll of butchers’ paper and did lots of diagrams and planning. It really helps me to ‘see’ it like that. Freewriting is also my miracle writing tool – I free-write whenever I am stuck whether it be a plot or character issue.

What is the hardest thing about being an author/illustrator?

 It feels like my dream job. The hardest thing is that I never clock off. There is always work to be done.

How did you overcome it?

I’m not sure I have overcome that one yet!

What has kept you going?

My love of books sustains me always and also my writing buddies. I write once a week with kids’ authors Zanni Louise and Tristan Bancks, and have an amazing online writing critique group with those two and Lian Tanner and Deb Abela. I spend so much time in my own head, thinking things through, that having a writing community is really essential.

I was lucky to be at a recent launch of Sarah’s Big Magic and although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, it sounds amazing.