Australian author Meredith Costain wasn’t very sporty as a child. She remembers spending all her time reading books.
“I grew up in a house full of books. I started reading even before I joined school,” she says. Growing up on a farm in Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp, near Melbourne, the author remembers riding a bike to school that only had two teachers, two rooms and 40 children. “There was something about the rhythm of the wheels going round and round that led to several ideas and stories jumping around in my head. As soon as I reached home, I would go to my bedroom or the haystack and scribble them down,” she says. With a poem published in a newspaper at the age of eight, she became even more determined to be an author when she grew up. “I had even decided my pen name,” says the writer, who wrote five books as Gemma Carey. She was in Delhi this month for Bookaroo, a children’s literature festival.
In the past two decades, Costain has written over 150 books, ranging from picture books to novels and non-fiction titles for children, including The Cuddliest Hug, A Year in Girl Hell and Aussie Nibbles. The most recent and popular are the series The Ella Diaries and Olivia’s Secret Scribbles. “In my books, two things that I try to feature are music and dogs,” says Costain, who has two dogs, two cats and three chickens in her Melbourne home. “I live in the city but it is like a farm,” she says. Her first, a picture book, was Musical Harriet (1995) and had both music and dogs. It revolved around a little girl who wanted to play the trombone but was short in height. “Some people start with the setting, some with the plot, but I always start with the characters; if you know your characters well, they’ll write the stories for you,” she adds.
In The Ella Diaries, the author goes back to her 10-year-old self and addresses issues that girls that age face at school and home. She uses the format of a dairy with doodles. Publishing house Scholastic had pitched the idea as the format was popular among younglings, but there weren’t many books in the category specially for girls. “A lot of books in Australia are targeted to get boys to read, so the main characters are boys and there is a boy on the cover,” says Costain. The series is selling in 25 countries and has been translated into numerous languages, including French, German, Spanish, Czech, Turkish and Russian. “I get a lot of e-mails from girls who love my books because they feel Ella is like them, their problems are similar and now they know what to do,” she says. Ella now has a younger sister, Olivia, who has her own series of books that started this year — Olivia’s Secret Scribbles. “While Ella is into singing, dancing, acting, and fashion designing, Olivia is simpler, cheeky and confident. She likes science experiments and wants to build a time machine,” says the author.