Shirley Marr is a first-generation Chinese-Australian living in sunny Perth and an author of young adult and children’s fiction. Her titles are A Glasshouse of Stars, Little Jiang, Preloved and Fury. Shirley describes herself as having a Western Mind and an Eastern Heart and writes in the middle where both collide. Her passion is to distil her cultural heritage in dark and unusual ways through the lens of resilient young women and her soft spot is interpreting the concept of a ‘Suburban Princess’.
What made you tell this story?
A Glasshouse of Stars is based on the true childhood experience of my migration to Australia. With the emergence of #OwnVoices stories, told by underrepresented and marginalised authors, I felt it was my time to tell my own story.
What would you like young readers to take away from A Glasshouse of Stars?
I would love for them to understand what it’s like to be a child migrant, to suddenly feel like the world is a different and frightening place – the culture, the people, the language, everything – and have a sense of empathy for the difficulties of people starting new lives in new worlds.
What was the first book that made you feel seen?
It was actually a very recent book – Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim. It’s a coming-of-age voice from the Asian diaspora about an immigrant family and the way the main character navigates parental expectations whilst finding her way in the world. It is such a realistic and searing portrayal of what being a young Chinese-Australian can be like. I laughed, I cried, I related so deeply.
What advice would you give to new writers?
To not be afraid to write about your own experiences. To write in what you believe in and to keep going even if success doesn’t come easy. It took me 117 rejections over 5 different manuscripts before I got my agent! Join writing groups and find people you can laugh, cry and celebrate your journey with. Ask yourself this question: would you still write even if you never got published? If the answer is yes, then you are writing for the right reasons.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I like to sink into a hot bath and dream! That’s where I come up with my best ideas. When I am writing and feel stuck, I find going for a long walk and having conversations in my head with my characters helps! I also find inspiration in other books, in the lyrics of songs and in watching people interact with each other. That’s why I still have a job in an office during the daytime even though I’m an author.
What has been some of your favourite lessons so far in your journey as a writer?
That you can be yourself and write your own truths even if you’re writing fiction! I starting writing as a form of escapism and a way to hide myself away. But I have come to realise that you can create a completely imaginary world and still share your honest experiences and life lessons with your audience and create those important connections.
What would you like to see more of in children’s publishing?
I would like to see even more writers from diverse backgrounds offering stories that are different. I see these types of representations coming through now and it makes me feel excited to pick up these books: characters representing a range of cultures, orientations, identities and book covers not being shy to represent these characters. It makes me feel so proud to be part of the industry right now.
Is there a quote or book that resonates with you today?
My favourite book is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and my favourite quote from it is:
“Nevertheless, we all of us, to varying degrees, believed that when you saw the person you were copied from, you’d get some insight into who you were deep down, and maybe too, you’d see something of what your life held in store.”
It represents my own yearning to truly know who I am separate from my parents, and I find writing helps with that.
What book(s) are you most excited about reading this year?
I’m looking forward to reading Klara and the Sun. I know it’s been released for a while now, but I’m saving it for a special day!