Julie Gives Ex Libris Some Lip

Julie Hunt may not have had “the lip” for the trumpet, but she sure has the voice for storytelling. As her success in children’s literature continues to grow Julie spoke to Ex Libris Coordinator Kirsty Hawkes, about her early dreams.

“I had some ridiculous obsessions when I was growing up. I wanted to be a ballet dancer, but I was always overweight. Then I desperately wanted to be a trumpet player – I don’t know why. I even went to a psychic to try and work it out. After some time of trying I was finally told that I “didn’t have the lip for trumpet.”

Julie’s musical odyssey was not wasted. Music is featured in all her books as are her trips overseas. Her most recent book, Kidglovz (2015), a graphic novel produced with illustrator Dale Newman, features the trials and tribulations of a child prodigy whose piano playing skills lead him into all kinds of trouble. The boy and his companion travel through a landscape based on the Carpathian Mountains of Romania where Julie spent several weeks walking.

“It was like walking through a story. I could picture everything.” Says Julie.

Kidglovz is currently in development for a movie with producer, Sophie Byrne of Passion Pictures. Sophie produced the 2011 Academy Award-winning animated short film, The Lost Thing, based on the book by Shaun Tan.

But Kidglovz would be nothing without his magic white gloves which brings us to another of Julie’s themes – magical clothing. In her picture book, The Coat Julie unleashes the first of her sartorial surprises when a downcast young man is transformed by the miraculous jacket he finds adorning a scarecrow.

“I read this book to the children I ran writing workshops with at the two Port Fairy schools and they were captivated,” says Kirsty Hawkes, “Julie’s writing really inspires kids to use their imaginations and ask that classic narrative question – what if?”

Julie shot to success as a writer in 2013 when The Coat won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Picture Book of the Year. An incredible coat also appears in Julie’s next work of fiction, Song for a Scarlett Runner published in 2013 and winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize. This coat is worn by Swamp Aunty, Eadie, a herbalist and healer with a dark secret. Like many of Julie’s characters Eadie is both wicked and wonderful.

Scarlett Runner has also been optioned for a film though Julie feels Kidglovz is more likely to come to fruition.

Kirsty’s daughter Kiri alerted her to the delights of Julie’s writing. Kiri said: “I love that the characters are not too simple, you know just baddies and goodies. They are like real people, but in a magical world. I also really like the way the story is such an adventure. It twists and turns and you never know what will happen next. And you really get to feel what Peat is feeling.”

Kiri is such a fan of the book that she dressed up as Peat, the main character, for Book Week, but her favourite character is not human. It’s a strange little creature called variously a sleek, a snide and a scarlet runner and is as likely to bite you as bring you food.

“Julie based the animal on a quoll which are quite common where she lives in Tasmania.” Kirsty explains, “It’s such a great character that I suggested we make it the theme of Julie’s workshop. The other unusual thing about the workshop is it’s for both adults AND children. What better way for budding children’s authors to find out what kids want to read about?”

Julie’s next book is based on a character she developed in Kidglovz. She said: “It’s called Shoestring – the Boy who Walks on Air and it will probably be out in 2018. I’m working with Dale Newman again, but this time the book will have more writing. It’ll be a kind of hybrid graphic novel.”

As Kidglovz goes into publication in Germany, Julie looks set to becoming one of Australia’s most important contemporary children’s writers. But despite her success she remains down to earth, milking the cows on the farm where she lives and tending her garden.

Kirsty said: “Julie is a very entertaining person who draws on her varied life experience to create her unique stories. She’s an inspiration, not just to kids but anyone who wants to be a fiction writer especially as her biggest successes have come to her in her 50s. Maybe there’s even hope for me! She’s also the only writer at this year’s festival to contribute a cuss word to inspire entries for our Cussing Competition. We asked her for some lip and she gave us Stuckfugging blaggert! Go Julie!

You can find out more about Julie on her website www.juliehunt.com.au.