The Lorikeet Tree


Most of my stories originate from one small idea or event. I can say, right now, that finding one of these gemstones is the hardest part of the writing process. For me it is agony. I know that some authors like Enid Blyton and Ray Bradbury have said that ideas flow like magic but I think that writers like this are in the minority. Most of us struggle to find something fresh and original to write about.

When I have finally come up with an idea, I sometimes begin sketching out a plot. At other times I just begin writing without knowing how the story will develop. Usually, I don’t know what the tale is all about until I finish. Often, I am amazed at what I discover in my own books.

After about ten years of writing, I realised that I was unconsciously returning to a small number of themes. The most common of these related to the separation of parent and child. To me, this is the most powerful theme about which one can write. I have had scores of moving letters about tales which seem funny, but in reality, contained moving content about human nature.

The Lorikeet Tree
once again is a riff on my most used theme. But in other ways it is different. The two teenagers in the story have no mother and in the first line of the book we find out that their father is dying. It seems that, unlike my previous stories, there will be no uplifting reunion.

Am I transgressing any rules by writing about death for younger readers? I think that it is acceptable. By the time we are twelve or thirteen we know that death is a reality. Pets die. And grandparents. Fatal car accidents fill the news every day.

How should I as an author handle this? Is there ever happiness in life after the loss of a loved one? Is there an afterlife? How can we keep going? Does anything remain in us that was once part of someone we loved? How should we behave at such times?

Literature tells us how others have managed. It offers solace and help.

Some of my readers might not go past the first sentence in The Lorikeet Tree. This is a risk I have taken because I hope that my story, besides being about ordinary people who discover what is important in life, is filled with adventure and excitement.

Having finished the book I can see that, without meaning to, I have written about courage, the environment, hope, mental health and - most of important of all - love.

The Lorikeet Tree
is the most biographical of all my stories. It is set in a developing forest along the Great Ocean Road near the country town of Warrnambool. I established such a forest there more than thirty years ago and have enormous feelings of attachment to it. The memories of the re-introduced native bushland on that property enabled me to start the story in a setting with which I was totally familiar.

My protagonists are a teenage girl who loves a wild bird that has been attracted to the area, and her twin brother who is smitten by a growing kitten. Angry exchanges result in life-threatening conflict and thoughtless reprisals. Cat and bird, both driven by instincts, merely want to survive but more is demanded of the two teenagers who must somehow solve their problems with love for each other, their father, and the natural environment in which they live.

In The Lorikeet Tree, cat and bird serve as a metaphor for the struggle between brother and sister. Can such a story have a happy ending on both levels?

All I will say is this. Upon reading the first draft, my editor Julie Watts, made the following comment, “Once again we are all reaching for the box of tissues, Paul.”

That’s good enough for me. There’s nothing wrong with happy tears.

Paul Jennings

My Biography

A Different Land

I started trying to write a biography more than ten years ago but I just couldn’t find the right voice. I would write a few chapters and send them to my editor, Julie Watts. Each time, as always, she was encouraging but I knew in my heart that my efforts weren’t good enough. The work always seemed boring and stilted. Then, early last year (2019) I thought to myself, ‘I’ll try and make it read like a novel. I’ll shift things around a bit and sow a few clues as to what might be going to happen next. I decided to use the techniques that I usually adopt when writing fiction.

I also thought that I would throw in a few tips about writing for kids and some insights into the world of children’s publishing. In addition, I made a vow to let many of my foolish behaviours and secret problems show through. I thought, ‘What’s the point of a memoir if we are not going to share our vulnerabilities and frailties?’

With these thoughts in mind I wrote two sample chapters and sent them to Julie. She said, ‘You have hit the mark this time Paul. I would like to send it to Erica at once.’

Erica Wagner is my publisher. She read the two chapters on the tram and rang me straight away. She said, ‘I have to check with the boss, but I want to publish this book, Paul.’

I was so thrilled and went straight to work. Untwisted has definitely been the most difficult book I have written. Not just because it was the longest (76000 words) nor because it is aimed at adults. But because there are so many problems to face when writing about the past that are not there when one can make the whole story up (as in fiction). So, I decided that I would also share these problems with the readers as my story unfolded.

Now I have finished, others will make their judgements in regard to my success. My publisher Erica sent copies of the manuscript to some literary experts and asked for their opinions. I am sincerely grateful to these people for reading the whole book and offering these generous comments.

Endorsements for Untwisted

‘As generous, sensitive, perceptive and honest as its author, Untwisted is a fascinating collage. In deceptively simple prose, Paul Jennings uses key moments and events to make a vibrant, funny and moving picture of an amazing life. If you want to know what makes a writer, read this.’

– Emily Rodda
‘Read this and you’ll start to understand why Paul Jennings knows not only how to captivate with his words but with his knowledge that life does not proceed in an orderly fashion. His didn’t and we’re all the richer for it.’

– Geraldine Doogue, renowned journalist and broadcaster
‘Paul stands with O’Henry, Wodehouse and Dahl, the great short-story writers. The originality of his imagination and humour shine, but there is a wonderful darkness underneath. His memoir goes some way to explaining that darkness.’

– Terry Denton
‘Poignant, courageous and sometimes funny, this is the story of a kind, gentle and deeply thoughtful man who is also one of Australia’s best-loved children’s authors. I read the manuscript in one sitting and thought it was just wonderful. Having read Paul’s kids’ books, I was surprised. He’s a beautiful writer for adults as well! And I got such a sense of Paul in his writing. It was like he was in this room talking to me about his life.’

– Debra Van Tol, long time Author Liaison at Penguin Australia
‘This wry and moving account of a life, from humble beginnings in 1940s Britain to literary super-stardom in Australia and world-wide, is ingeniously constructed, quietly confessional, sweetly endearing, and, of course, often wildly hilarious.’

– Carmel Bird, winner of the Patrick White Award, author of Field of Poppies, Dear Writer Revisited and more
‘Generations of Australians have grown up reading Paul Jennings’ deceptively simple tales. In Untwisted, Paul is telling a new story – that of the unique and varied chapters of his own life. Honest, raw and revealing, Paul’s story features the twists, turns and surprises we’ve come to expect of this iconic writer.’

– Jane Godwin, former publisher and author of When Rain Turns to Snow
‘A bare-your-soul memoir with brutal honesty from a man who just keeps giving. A raw glimpse into the person and his craft. This book is a must for lovers of the children’s literature world and those who wish to contribute to it.’

– Louise Park, author of 7 Steps to get your child reading
A personal invitation into the remarkable head of a quirky genius and one of Australia’s most beloved writers. Achingly honest, full of writing wisdom and insights for educators. Essential reading.’

– Megan Daley, author of Raising Readers
‘Paul Jennings knows how to tell a tale – tall or twisted, terrifying or true. Courageous in his craft, Jennings is unafraid of the dark corners, drawing out stories that give voice to things absurd, peculiar and strange. Somehow, he’s able to take a reader’s hand – often a very young reader – and walk them through landscapes of vulnerability, finding tenderness and humour in the most unexpected places. In this, his memoir, Jennings gives us the story behind the storyteller, untwisting the threads of his own life with generosity, humility and candour. Untwisted is Jennings at his best – tall and twisted, terrifying and true. This is a tale most memorable. Has Paul Jennings been listed as a National Living Treasure yet? He should be.’

– Gabbie Stroud, author of Teacher and Dear Parents