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>> Siblings, and best friends

Siblings, and best friends

Siblings, and best friends

It's the 1970s, and Lenny is growing up in a small family where money is tight and their father is absent. Then her younger brother starts to grow, and grow. This is their story. We asked author KAREN FOXLEE to tell us more.

LENNY'S BOOK OF EVERYTHING is Lenny's account of her childhood and growing up with her younger brother, Davey, who has a condition that makes him grow too quickly.

The siblings are close and through Lenny, we discover more about their games and dreams, and the prize set of encyclopedias they win. But behind this lies an ever-growing fear about Davey, and the reason why he won't stop growing...

We asked author KAREN FOXLEE to tell us more about LENNY'S BOOK OF EVERYTHING:

Q: What was the starting point for you in writing Lenny's Book of Everything?

A: The starting point was a strange collection of ideas. I wanted to write about the feeling of being different and of loving someone who is different. I decided on a story about a baby boy who starts to grow at an alarming rate. I also knew this story had to include an encyclopedia set! Even by my own standards, I thought, wow, that's really weird. But it really made me excited as well.

So, I started to write and failed miserably multiple times. I put the story away for about six or seven years. It was while I was editing A Most Magical Girl, and not long after my mother had passed away, that those strange ideas started to call me again. This time when I sat down Lenny, the narrator, was waiting for me.

Q: Why did you decide to make the growth of Davey, Lenny's younger brother, the main challenge for the family, and especially for Lenny?

A: I don't know and I get asked that a lot. In those first failed drafts it was always about a boy child who starts to grow too fast... in many ways, in those first drafts, it was almost a magical growing... but later when Lenny arrived, I knew it was because of an illness.

I think at the point of writing that later version I wanted to explore what it is to love someone who is different, how illness impacts a family, and notions of love; family love, sibling love, neighbourly love, the love between friends, the love in a community. The idea of a boy with an illness that makes him grow just seemed to fit.

Q: Was it difficult to get the balance of Lenny feeling both close to, and embarrassed by, her brother?

A: Yes, I think any writing like that is a balancing act. There's always points where you go overboard, write too hard in one direction. I think Lenny was probably a lot more embarrassed of her brother in earlier drafts. It's just a process of writing and re-writing until it seems right. I seem to do it more by feel - it just feels right in my gut when I get the balance right.

Q: Why did you decide to make theirs a single parent family?

A: I don't think there was a conscious process going on with that. I think probably I bring elements like these into a story because they are something I am trying to sort out in my own head; emotions and memories. I've featured absent fathers frequently in my stories because I was the daughter of one. But I also always return again and again to themes of grief, friendship, love, resilience, hope...

Q: The story is set in the 1970s, why were you drawn to that period for this story?

A: I am a child of the 1970s so I find myself both comfortable and comforted writing about this era. I remember it with so much fondness. Obviously, I'm Australian and I'm writing about an American 1970s so I had to do a little research but on the whole much of it is drawn from my memories of the time.

Q: And can you tell us more about the encyclopedias that the family win in a competition as a framework for the story?

A: As mentioned above, that element was there from the start. It comes from a very strong memory of an encyclopedia set as a child. My parents purchased it for us when I was about eight years old and it was completely life-changing.

I can remember feeling that I had all knowledge at my fingertips and that the whole world had moved into a little book shelf in our dining room. It was the Google of the 1970s.

I knew I needed my characters to experience the joy of knowledge through an encyclopedia set. I think it is so important for the story. Lenny and Davey don't really go anywhere, but they experience so much of the world through these pages.

Q: The children have favourite letters and sections (eagles / beetles) as the encyclopedia sections arrive - what was yours?

A: As a child my favourite section was costume through the ages. There were multiple colour plates showing everything from Romans in togas to women in 1920s dress. I adored those pages and spent hours looking at them and making up stories about the various people.

Q: Where do you write and what is your favourite time of day to write, and what are you writing now?

A: I write in bed, on the sofa or in the kitchen. I am a morning person, so I write from about five o'clock in the morning until around eleven. I'm not much good after that.

At present I've gone back to magic. I'm writing a story set in the world that the marvellous boy came from. It features a broken clock tower, a wolf with wings and a water dragon who is afraid of the water.

Q: If you could imagine your dream 'writing shed', what would it look like and where would it be?

A: I've never really had a dream writing destination! I'm too practical ha-ha! I always think, just get up and write and stop complaining about it!

My dream writing shed, would be an office, maybe over the top of a shop somewhere in a city, with a view of... nothing too exciting... or I wouldn't get work done. I'd go there to write because then I wouldn't be tempted to do the washing and school lunches and house-cleaning.

Q: What are your favourite escapes when you are not writing?

A: I love the beach. Absolutely anywhere with the sea. I'm lucky enough to live in a beautiful part of the world - Queensland Australia - and we are pretty spoilt with beautiful beaches.

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