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Interview with Madeleine Tobert

Madeleine Tobert is a traveller, a teacher and a writer of books. Two of the many things she can’t resist are the sea and a good story. She was born in Scotland, has travelled the world, including the South Pacific and South America, and now lives in New Zealand. She is the author of The Sea on Our Skin. Find out more about Madeleine at http://madeleinetobert.com/ and see below for her answers to some questions about herself and her writing.

What is a typical working day for you?

Unfortunately writing is only a tiny part of my weekdays at the moment. I wake up at 5.30 to go and do a gym class between 6 and 7 and then head straight to work. I teach English as a foreign language so spend my day playing with words, but in a slightly different capacity to what I do as a novelist. If there is time for a lunch break, I hide away in a coffee shop and am absorbed by a book for an hour (I think reading is essential for writing). Then it's back to the classroom until 4.30. In the evenings I try and write but don't force myself. If I'm too tired I just read a little more. However, it is a different story on the weekends. No gym, no job, just writing! I like to get up slowly and wander around the corner to a coffee shop near my house. They are very nice about letting me hog a table for hours on end and nurse one cup of tea while I write. Background noise and no Internet connection really helps me concentrate. I try to write 4000 words a weekend, 2000 on Saturday, 2000 on Sunday. I love the weekends!

What are your three favourite books of all time – and why?

Anne Patchett's Bel Canto, Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and perhaps Douglas Adam'sHitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The first one is the book I wish I had written. It's beautiful and original and Anne Patchett is amazing. The second book, however is the one that convinced me that I would one day get published. I read it veraciously drawing the family tree as I went and had a sort of Eureka moment afterwards - so that's how you write! Okay then. The third is just fun. I read it as a teenager and return to it over and over again. I can't write anything funny and this book is hilarious so I take my hat off to Mr Adams!

What author do you most admire and why?

Isabelle Allende. She's written heaps of books and they're all brilliant. She tackles difficult subjects - politics in all its less pleasant forms - but creates something beautiful and inspiring out of it. She's my hero.

What tips would you give to aspiring writers?

Don't be sensible. There are lots of good reasons not to become a writer. Ignore them. Just do it!

What’s your most memorable experience at a literary event?

I suppose it was the terror of my first reading. I'm on the shy side, a lifelong blusher; being asked to stand in front of a crowd and tell them a story was my Everest. But I survived and it was actually quite fun!

If a movie was made of your life, what three songs would you want on the soundtrack?

The one by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - the ukulele version of 'what a wonderful world'. That one represents my South Pacific jaunts. Then something from Manu Chao to be the South American part of my life. Hmmm, I'm not sure what I'd have for Scotland/New Zealand. Some obscure song by the proclaimers?

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't worry so much. It'll all be okay.


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