What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved a strange character called Grug. It was a whole series. Grug and the Big Red Apple, Grug and the Rainbow, Grug and the Green Paint, all by Ted Prior. I could describe him in more detail… Actually, I can’t. Grug pretty much defies belief.
When you were growing up did you have books in your home?
I think we had just about every Doctor Seuss book available in Australia. My parents couldn’t speak English when they came here, so it was important to them that their children at least had the chance to be good communicators, as well as good readers and writers of English. A lot of my childhood memories seem to have books in the picture.
Was there someone who got you interested in reading and/or writing?
My parents. The best part was that they never really forced the books down our throats. They just made sure that the books were there.
What made you want to write when you were starting out?
I wanted to be a writer when I was 16 and read the right books for me. It was that feeling of turning pages and not even realising it – I was so immersed in the world of each book. That was when I looked up from the pages and thought, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” I decided that I was going to be a writer and that nothing was going to stop me.
Do you find writing easy?
I find writing extremely difficult. I usually have to drag myself to my desk, mainly because I doubt myself. And it’s getting harder because I want to improve with every book. Sometimes I guess it’s best just to forget there’s an audience and just write like no one will ever read it at all.
What makes you write now?
To me the question is always this: if a ray of light came out of the sky and said, “Your next book will never be published – would you still write it?” If the answer is yes, the book is worth writing.
What preparation do you do before writing?
I procrastinate in spades. In my defence, I also try to have all other distractions solved before I can concentrate on writing. My small theory is that to write for three hours, you need to feel like you have three days. To write for three days, you need to feel like you’ve got three weeks, and so on. Ultimately, though, it’s the feeling in my stomach that’s similar to the night before the school assignment is due…and you haven’t started yet. That’s my preparation.
Do you have a daily routine when you are writing?
I try to write in slabs. I aim for five hours in the morning, and a shorter period of time in the afternoon, early evening.
How do you survive being alone in your work so much of the time?
I think to be writer you have to enjoy being alone. I was a loner as a teenager and was always drawn to characters in books and films who were at the fringes. It comes down to the difference between loneliness and aloneness. I guess we form relationships with the characters in the books. Again, it’s that strange idea of believing it while you’re writing it.
What was the best piece of advice given to you?
Probably that getting published was going to be very hard, and that it would take a lot of work, a lot of rejection and a lot of repeated attempts. That way you go in knowing what it will take, and there’s more chance that you’ll appreciate it if you’re one of the lucky ones.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Don’t be afraid to fail. I fail every day. I failed thousands of times writing The Book Thief, and that book now means everything to me. Of course, I have many doubts and fears about that book, too, but some of what I feel are the best ideas in it came to me when I was working away for apparently no result. Failure has been my best friend as a writer. It tests you, to see if you have what it takes to see it through.
Is there a secret to writing?
The best ideas come to you when you’re sitting down, working. That’s when most of the breakthroughs occur – simply by doing the work. If someone wanted to be a runner, you don’t tell them to think about running, you tell them to run. And the same simple idea applies to writing, I hope.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a book called Bridge of Clay – about a boy building a bridge and wanting it to be perfect. He wants to achieve greatness with this bridge, and the question is whether it will survive when the river floods. That’s all I can say about it for now – not out of secrecy, but you just don’t know what direction a book is going to take, no matter how well you’ve planned.
· The Book Thief is published in paperback by Black Swan. Further details about the author can be found at www.randomhouse.com/features/markuszusak/
Markus Zusak (born 23 June 1975) is an Australian author. He is best known for his books The Book Thief and The Messenger (published in USA as I Am the Messenger), which have been international bestsellers.