Book Nerd Interview
The Rage of Sheep was her first novel. An early draft of the novel won a mentorship with the Children's Book Council of Australia. This meant she was lucky enough to work on the manuscript with Young Adult author Alyssa Brugman. The Rage of Sheep was published by Random House Australia in August, 2007.
Michelle's second novel, A Brief History of Montmaray, was published by Random House Australia in June, 2008, with an audiobook version, narrated by Melissa Chambers, released in November, 2008, by Louis Braille Audio. The novel was awarded the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature and was shortlisted for the Golden Inky, Australia's teenage choice book award. A Brief History of Montmaray was published in North America by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers in October, 2009, and was named in the 2010 ALA Best Books for Young Adults list. An audiobook version of the North American edition was published in January, 2010, by Listening Library.
The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the second book in The Montmaray Journals trilogy, was published in Australia in August, 2010, with an audiobook released in November, 2010. The book was published in North America in April, 2011 as a hardcover, e-book and audiobook. Michelle is currently working on the final novel in the Montmaray trilogy.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I read Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden when I was seven and I loved it so much, I wanted to jump inside the book and become best friends with the main character. I think that was the first time I understood that books were actually written by human beings, rather than simply popping into existence by themselves, like flowers. That’s when I first started to think about becoming a writer.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
It might surprise them to know that I’ve never visited Europe or seen a real castle, even though my Montmaray books are about a family of European royals who live in a castle. (I’m not a member of a royal family, either, but I don’t think that fact would surprise anyone.)
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I’ve been writing down stories since I was seven, but I didn’t finish writing an entire book until I was thirty. Then it took another couple of years before I’d worked up enough courage to show anyone else my writing. I definitely wasn’t one of those super-confident teenage writers who dazzle everyone with their youthful literary talent.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Hmm . . . I could already read when I started school, so I’d have to say the most useful thing I was taught was arithmetic, because I still use those skills now. Being able to do quick calculations in your head is very handy when you’re adapting recipes, or sewing curtains, or figuring out how much paint you need for your bathroom ceiling. Other than that, I’m not sure I got anything out of school that I couldn’t have learned by myself in a library. The day I finished high school was one of the happiest days of my life. (University was great, though.)
Did you learn anything from writing The FitzOsbornes at War and what was it?
I learned that war is hell. I also wondered if I could have been as brave and uncomplaining as those who endured the Blitz during the Second World War.
What do you feel is the most significant change since A Brief History of Montmaray?
It’s only been recently that I’ve felt entitled to call myself a ‘writer’. I certainly didn’t when A Brief History of Montmaray was published, even though it was my second book. I guess I felt you were only allowed to call yourself a ‘writer’ if you’d sold millions of books or won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But the other day, I was at the library returning some books and the librarian said, “Wait, are you the Michelle Cooper who writes books?” And I said, “Yes, that’s me! I’m a writer!” And I felt really happy to say that.
Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing The Montmaray Journals?
I’m very fond of Toby. When we first meet him, he’s a beautiful, charming boy who’s had everything handed to him on a silver platter. He has a good heart, but he’s irresponsible and frivolous. As the series progresses, he reveals hidden depths, but it’s not until the final book that he transforms into the brave, strong leader he was born to be. I enjoyed watching that development of his character.
For those who are unfamiliar with Sophie, how would you introduce her?
Sophie’s the quiet one in a family of loud, charismatic eccentrics. She lacks confidence in herself and has a tendency to drift off into romantic daydreams, but she’s also thoughtful and observant. By the second book in the series, she’s learned how to use her strengths to her advantage – her cousin aptly describes her as ‘Machiavelli disguised as a debutante’. She’s also the glue that holds her family together.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Sophie would get along well with Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle. They could sit in the kitchen drinking cocoa and discussing boys, poetry and how to deal with leaky castle roofs.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
When I was writing my first novel, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Australian YA author Alyssa Brugman. She read my manuscript and gave me lots of thoughtful feedback on it. Then, when we felt the manuscript was ready, she sent it to her two publishers, one of which was Random House. They’ve now published four of my novels. Alyssa also helped me find my agent. I really don’t think I’d be where I am now in my writing career if it hadn’t been for her.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
I’d probably advise them not to pay any attention to my advice! What would I know?
What is your happiest childhood memory?
Sitting on the verandah steps in summer, engrossed in a book, with my dog snoring at my feet.
What's the worst summer job you've ever had?
I was the world’s worst waitress the summer I turned seventeen. I forgot orders, brewed undrinkable coffee and dropped a bread roll in a diner’s lap. I’m amazed I wasn’t fired.
When was the last time you cried?
I watched Toy Story 3 for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I was a sobbing mess by the end. That scene where they’re all on the conveyor belt heading for the furnace, and they’ve accepted that it’s all over, and they reach out for each other’s hands so they can all die together as a family . . . My eyes are welling up just thinking about it.
Where can readers contact you?
They can join in the discussion at my blog, Memoranda, or they can send me an email.
Michelle Cooper completes her heart-stealing epic drama of history and romance with The FitzOsbornes at War.
Sophie FitzOsborne and the royal family of Montmaray escaped their remote island home when the Nazis attacked. But as war breaks out in England and around the world, nowhere is safe. Sophie fills her journal with tales of a life during wartime. Blackouts and the Blitz. Dancing in nightclubs with soliders on leave. And endlessly waiting for news of her brother Toby, whose plane was shot down over enemy territory.
But even as bombs rain down on London, hope springs up, and love blooms for this most endearing princess. And when the Allies begin to drive their way across Europe, the FitzOsbornes take heart—maybe, just maybe, there will be a way to liberate Montmaray as well.
A great amount of historical research is performed on the development of this historical fiction. Author Michelle has an eye for detail and factual precision. She skillfully combined fact and fiction and intertwining historical figures and events into the lives of her dynamic characters. Placing actual people into this fictional work was important due to the time period and created a highly engaging aspect. Michelle’s writing style truly carried the story. Through Sophie’s narration, she brings life not only to the story, but also to the other characters. The ending is well put with a little surprising twist providing a valiant resolution that felt satisfactory to end the story. The FitzOsbornes at War is the perfect ending and delivers a rewarding conclusion.