Questions with Lian Tanner

Lian Tanner is a children’s author and playwright. She has worked as a teacher in Australia and Papua New Guinea, a tourist bus driver, a freelance journalist, a juggler, a community arts worker, an editor and a professional actor. It took her a while to realise that all of these jobs were really just preparation for being a writer. Nowadays she lives by the beach in southern Tasmania, with a small tabby cat and lots of friendly neighbourhood dogs. She has not yet mastered the art of Concealment by the Imitation of Nothingness, but she is quite good at Camouflage.


Tell us a bit about your latest book.

My latest book is Secret Guardians, the second book in The Rogues trilogy. It’s a children’s fantasy novel; the story of Duckling (a girl with a very dishonest grandfather) and Pummel (a boy from the country), who have unexpectedly found themselves the custodians of some strange magic. In the first book, this magic helped them save the Young Margrave of Neuhalt from the dreadful Harshman, who wants him dead.

Now, Duckling and Pummel are trying to keep the Young Margrave safe. But they’re about to run into a gang of ruthless slavers. And in the south of the country, the rightful owner of their magic is plotting to get it back.

What was the inspiration for the story?

The inspiration for the whole trilogy was a Spanish conman who I met (and was conned by) in Madrid many years ago. This second book was inspired partly by the catacombs of Paris, and partly by a chicken I once knew.

Tell us about your main characters. Why should we fall in love with them?

Duckling has been raised as the granddaughter of a conman, with no regard for honesty, or for anyone else’s well-being. But underneath the lessons she has learned from her grandfather, she has a good heart.

Pummel is honest, responsible and kind, but he’s also far too trusting. The two children are so different from each other, yet somehow they have become friends. And in this second book, their friendship will be tested to its limits.

Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?

I’ve written since I was very young. When I was in primary school I used to write poems, strongly influenced by Banjo Paterson. In Grade 6 I started writing a couple of novels, though I never got very far with them.

I always saw writing as something I wanted to do, but didn’t take it seriously enough until I was in my forties, when I started writing plays for the theatre company I worked for.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Probably Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. I loved anything with talking animals, and this is such a fascinating story.

Can you recommend another female author we should read?

Mary Robinette Kowal’s alternative history/SF duology about the space race, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky.

What was the last book you read and loved?

The Hollow of Fear, the third book in Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series. It’s such an enjoyable series, full of humour, with a wildly intelligent heroine who loves cakes and isn’t very good at dealing with humans. In this particular book, absolutely nothing was what it seemed.

Do you have a favourite quote by a female author?

“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” Ursula K. Le Guin

Tell us three fun facts about yourself, that other people might not know?

  1. I’m the youngest child of a youngest child of a youngest child, which in fairytale terms pretty much guarantees me a magical life.
  2. I loathe parties. Absolutely loathe them. But occasionally I go to them just to remind myself how much I dislike them.
  3. I used to be a juggler, and had a very entertaining routine that told the story of three chooks, Beryl, Sheryl and Meryl.

Do you have a favourite illustrator of children’s books? Jonathan Bentley. Why? Because he has just finished illustrating my first picture book, Ella and the Ocean, and done an exquisite job of it. Looking at his work made me realise how much of their own dreaming illustrators bring to a picture book, and how much that enriches the text.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

The best piece of writing advice was probably to write the first draft as if no one else will ever read it.

I don’t think I’ve ever been given a really bad piece of writing advice. Or maybe I just ignored it and forgot about it straightaway.

What is your favourite song by a female singer, and why?

Nobody’s Business, sung by the wonderful Mary Coughlan. It’s a great song from anyone, but she delivers it with such splendid up-yours-ness.

What is your favourite thing about living and working in Tasmania?

Up until this year I would have said my favourite thing is that the summers aren’t too hot. That has just been proved wrong. But the quietness, the beauty, the fact that I know my neighbours, that I can live twenty minutes out of town in a quiet suburb by the beach, that I’ve lived here nearly all my life and can’t imagine living anywhere else – all those things still apply.

Can you recommend another Tasmanian writer?

Julie Hunt, whose fantasy novels for children create strange, intricate and magical worlds that draw you in and carry you away.

What is your favourite secret place in Tasmania?

Parts of the mountain/kunanyi. The fern glades, the secret paths, the little waterfalls that you stumble across unexpectedly – I’ve known them since I was a child and have never stopped loving them.

What’s something about Tasmania that people might not know?

That of all the colonies that made up the future Australia, Tasmania had the highest proportion of drunkards, paupers, lunatics, orphaned or abandoned children, invalids and prisoners. This is a statistic that never fails to please and fascinate me.


Find out more about Lian at her website and at Allen and Unwin.