Nadia Wheatley

Nadia Wheatley writes for both adults and young people. Her award-winning books cover the genres of fiction, history, biography and picture books, and reflect her commitment to social justice. Nadia's first book, Five Times Dizzy, was often described as the first multicultural children's book in this country.

During the period 1998-2001 Nadia Wheatley and artist Ken Searle worked as consultants at the school at Papunya (an Aboriginal community in the Western Desert, Northern Territory). As part of their work, they helped forty Indigenous staff and students produce the multi-award-winning Papunya School Book of Country and History.

In 2005 Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle developed an innovative Harmony project with children from Muslim, Catholic and state schools in Sydney's south-west. Examples of the students' writing and art are included in the picture book Going Bush, which is illustrated and designed by Ken and has a narrative text by Nadia.

What inspired you to become a writer?
I can't remember a time when I didn't know that writing was the only thing I wanted do in the whole world. My very first memories are of my mother reading books to me and telling me stories about her adventures in Greece and Palestine during the war. I was an only child, and there weren't any other children living nearby, so books and storytelling were my favourite game. Soon I found I could recognise some of the words in the books as my mother read to me, and I started reading out the alphabet-letters in the newspaper headlines while we ate breakfast. When I was four I started writing in a notebook a long story broken into chapters. I called it 'my novel', and I kept writing it for about two years. I illustrated it with little pictures along the bottom of the pages. When I was eight, I told my mother I had a problem. I didn't know if I wanted to write made-up stories (fiction) or history when I grew up. 'You can write both,' she said. And so I did.

What sort of books do you like to write? Most of all I love writing fiction, but sometimes I feel that what I want to say would work best as a piece of history or non-fiction. Sometimes I find that my stories are for children, and sometimes they turn out to be for adults.

How do you get your ideas?
My ideas come from place - from walking and looking at country, and letting the landscape tell me a story. Sometimes as I explore a part of the city, or a country town, or a rural area, I find that the real place starts to become a fictional place in my head. I find myself thinking about imaginary people who live in that place, and I find I know stories about the things that they do. At this early stage of a book I start to draw and re-draw maps of the landscape of the story, putting in the things that I need, and filling up the extra space with anything that feels right. The purpose of this mapping is to help me create the story and the characters, so that the people and the plot come out of the landscape rather than being placed into it. The landscape has to tell its own story.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a writer?
I love sitting alone in my work room, letting my characters fill the space and silence with their stories. However, my most rewarding experience was very different from this. Over a number of years, I was very privileged to be invited to work at the school at Papunya, an Aboriginal community in the Western Desert. After a long time of getting to know people, I helped forty students and staff and elders tell the history of the community. This was a very different way of writing. I had to let other people's stories flow through me.

Do you have any tips for young writers?
Read! And read widely! And read as much as you can! Reading and writing are like breathing in and breathing out. You can't do one without the other. If you want to be a writer, you should be reading all sorts of different books.

Books by Nadia Wheatley

Australians All

Published: September 2015

Winner of the Young People's History Prize in the 2014 NSW Premier's History Awards, this is a lavish and comprehensive history of Australia told through the eyes of young people.

Going Bush

Published: September 2013

The award-winning journey of friendship and harmony involving sixteen children from eight schools in south-west Sydney as they explore their local environment and work collaboratively on art and writing.


Published: June 2011

With historical and contemporary photographs, artwork by leading Indigenous artists, and new colour illustrations throughout, this compilation of Indigenous stories gives a fascinating insight into Aboriginal childhood, both traditional and contemporary.

Listening to Mondrian

Published: June 2006

Nadia Wheatley's award-winning and critically acclaimed collection, The Night Tolkien Died, was first published in 1995. Listening to Mondrian brings six of these stories and an additional two new stories to another generation of readers in a stylish new edition.

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