Sonya Hartnett

My definition of quality

A quality book for young people should leave them a different and slightly better person than they were when they began reading the book. Books have the opportunity to shape young people, and I think writers for the young should always take that opportunity to instil good things in their readers. Therefore, a novel for children should teach, although never in forced way. It should teach by quietly taking on themes and subjects and settings that the young reader might not have experienced, thereby broadening their concept and understanding of the world. The book doesn’t need to be sugar-sweet or hide from hard truths. Indeed, quality literature, even for the young, should never be afraid to present life in all its colours, even the ugliest. But one day, these youthful readers will be the adults of the world, and hopefully they will make good adults. In a small way, a book can help them if it passes on the message that the world is a fine place that should be cared for, that history is something we can learn from, that animals have a right to space and freedom, and that people have great potential for kindness and decency.

What has the award meant to you?

Since I won the award in 2008, I don’t think a day has gone when my life hasn’t in some way been affected by the prize. For a start, it bought me a really nice house, so that’s one big thing I’ll never have to worry about. It changed the way I’m seen as a writer – in articles I’m unfailingly described as ‘the Astrid Lindgren Award-winning author’ – and brought me considerably more respect from critics and from audiences in general. I am sure it made my work better known overseas. Personally, it gave me a confidence that perhaps I didn’t even realise I lacked. It made me believe myself a strong and capable writer, worthy of being taken seriously in my field. A lot of people wondered if the award would prove daunting, become a hurdle or a pressure, but I have never felt that. I’ve always felt it to be a huge grand gift and encouragement. I even feel like Astrid herself is my friend now; I have a picture of her on my fridge, so I see her every day. I like to think she wishes me well, and I try to write books that would make her proud.

What are you working on at present?

At the moment, I’m finishing off the next novel for children, called The Children of the King. It is set in England during the Second World War. It will be published in Australia in April 2012.