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I have a recurring dream about discovering an enticing space in my own home – a basement or garden – always just out of reach. Its residue is an elated sense of creative possibility. I like the sign the symbolist poet Saint-Pol-Roux put on his door before sleep: Poet at work.

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I admire everyone who puts their heart and soul into creating something beautiful with words. But in no particular order, a by no means comprehensive list: Gillian Mears, Gail Jones, Joan London, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Cate Kennedy, Charlotte Wood, Brenda Walker, David Malouf, Luke Davies, Kim Scott, Amanda Curtin ... I'm currently utterly absorbed in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan stories. In my fantasy writing life, like her I'd remain anonymous to everyone but my publisher.

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Though I doubt a critic ever improved a writer's work, a good one makes a difference to a culture. They are rare and valuable. Bad critics are worse than bad writers, but I know from trying years ago that they have an equally good excuse. It is for this reason that I have avoided answering the question.

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I always felt I had urgent news to deliver. I wanted to do that more than anything else.

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For me, writing is the beginning of so much. It’s how I methodise my thoughts. How I explore issues. My books really are co-explorations with my readers.

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I hate the words ‘bitch’ and ‘pimp’ and ‘porn’ used – even ironically – for everything from cookery to cars to home décor. I think we should all say ‘thrice’ again.

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I studied creative writing at UTS. Yes, it was worth it, mainly because I encountered some brilliant teachers – Martin Harrison in particular. Martin’s courses didn’t simply ‘teach’ me about writing; they changed the way I saw the world. Then I went on to do a conventional PhD at Cambridge, partly due to a strong belief that you learn to write by reading closely, and by immersing yourself in the work of others. I have taken to thinking of this PhD as a kind of apprenticeship in style.

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I love writers festivals; most of the ones I have appeared at have been for children, and they are great fun. They have given me the opportunity to meet other writers. Most of the time I work in isolation, so the festivals are wonderful. I like presenting to children. I trained originally as an actor; for a number of years I performed my picture book My Yellow Blanky to children all over Australia.

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Bigger Thomas, the anguished anti-hero in Richard Wright’s Native Son, never fails to make me seethe and squirm with discomfort. Although obviously not fictional, Maya Angelou was so engaging I followed her spirit right through her seven autobiographies.

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I’m a big supporter of digital publishing: it makes writing more accessible in a global context. I edited a collection called Writing Black, which is available on iBooks. This allows the American audience, which I particularly wanted to engage with while I spent some time in the United States promoting the black&write! project, to download it easily.

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