Small Beginnings, 10: Libby Hathorn

I can’t really remember much about a time when I couldn’t write. Grasping the pencil and making marks on a page that meant something, that could be read out loud, again and again, could be kept returned to and built on- was a wonder to me from the beginning. In a family of four kids in a small house in the suburbs, I found refuge quite often behind the lounge where I could sit with pencil and paper undisturbed for a while at least, and write ‘poems’ at first.

I think I was in first class when I presented the family with an alphabet that rhymed precariously. Then modelling on poems our parents read- from a singular treasury of verse of my father’s that ranged from bush verse to the English romantics and had had pride of place on the bookshelf, I began writing more ambitious poetry.  This as well as first stories-   I remember staying in the classroom at playtime when in Year 2 to complete my story I was so entranced with it, and then being commended for it. It caused me to write some twenty versions of that story It was only a dream…and then regale my long suffering family, stray aunts and uncles or grandparents who might be staying being included . May Gibbs may have contributed to some plot lines. It was my ‘bossy nanny’ the grandmother I both loved and feared, who said to me quite seriously after reading something I’d written aloud that ’one day Elizabeth you will be a writer!’ I think that kind of acknowledgement so early, that is some one believing in you, is significant.

Paper was precious and we used old exercise books from school that had not been completely filled to draw and to write. Unfortunately, during an annual clean up of the bedroom shared by three girls, all our precious junk, including my exercise books and papers were jettisoned while we were at the Saturday afternoon movie enjoying yet another Esther Williams or Yul Brynner movie! I was heart-broken then and I would be now, as what goes before has significance with what one is writing now. But I guess I must have not been completely deterred from forging on because in grade 3, I entered a competition to write a short story with the title of The Storm. The competition was run by a big department store, David Jones, in Sydney that actually had an art gallery on the top floor and must have in those days, valued the arts. The written piece of some 5 or 6 lines won a purple certificate and I treasured that award for many years. I must have secreted it somewhere to avoid clean ups for only recently I found my handwritten (dip penned) entry, The Storm, and smiled to myself to think that my very first young adult novel was also about a storm. Thunderwith  that remains in continuous print after some some 27 years, became the movie that took me all the way to Hollywood, The Echo of Thunder with Judy Davis starring, was set in the Australian bush in stormy weather, both physical and emotional.

Small beginnings…I’ve tried to consider what makes someone a writer and why my ‘bestie’ in Year 7 in a library lesson (where books and their authors were kept behind glass) made a small book out of scraps of paper entitled The Book by famous author E K Rage – a pseudonym I am still to use. That at 12 to be a writer was an impossible dream and yet once I read beyond school texts (though grateful for the rich heritage of English literature studied at school), poetry writing began in earnest. It marks my life and does not need publication to help me try to make meaning of the world though it’s fair to say that poetry feeds every story I have written or am to write. Perhaps having poetry read aloud in that small bedroom when I was really young was my lucky small beginning.

Libby in gardenn 2016

About Libby Hathorn:


Libby Hathorn is an award-winning author and poet of more than fifty books for children and young people. Translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen, her work has won honours in Australia, United States, Great Britain and Holland.


Libby was recipient of a Centenary Medal 2003 for her work in children’s literature. In 1994, her picture book Way Home was the winner of the Kate Greenaway Award, UK with illustrations by Greg Rogers.

In 2012 she was a National Ambassador for Reading and travelled to many country towns to talk about Australian literature as she has done in her role as Australia Day Ambassador since 1994.


In 2014 she was winner of The Alice Award, a national award for ‘a woman who has made a distinguished and long term contribution to Australian literature.’  With a deep interest in literature, poetry continues to inform her life and her writing.

Libby loves poetry. Reading it, being inspired by it, reciting it, teaching it, writing and dreaming about it. Many of her novels and picture books are inspired by poetry entirely. 

Her first young adult novel Thunderwith was made a movie (starring Judy Davis who was nominated for an Emmy for her performance as Gladwyn) by Hallmark Hall of Fame and this book enjoys over 27 years in continuous print. Two picture books Grandma’s Shoes and Sky Sash So Blue have been performed as operas; the first in Sydney and the second in Birmingham, Alabama. She is currently working on a libretto for her recent picture book Outside.


Libby’s latest picture books are:- Incredibilia (Little Hare 2016) and in the year of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy (Hachette 2016); Outside was named a Notable Australian picture book by the CBCA, 2015 (Little Hare, 2014).


Her most recent novel is Eventual Poppy Day (Harper Collins, 2015); and her first young adult novel (1989) Thunderwith (Hachette) was updated with a new cover in 2015.


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