Five Minutes with Susanne Gervay #LoveAusAuthors

Susanne Gervay is a passionate advocate of literacy. She is an Ambassador for ‘Room to Read’, bringing literacy to more than 20 million children in Asia and Africa; a Role Model and on the committee for Books in Homes, which has brought nearly 3 million books to disadvantaged and indigenous children; and a Reading ambassador for many campaigns. She has been awarded the Lifetime Social Justice Literature Award by the International Literacy Association, which, she says, goes to the heart of what and why she writes.

Susanne love speaking across the world reaching children and adults with story. She has spoken to aboriginal children in remote communities in the Kimberley; hundreds of Turkish children in Istanbul; fire-fighters, medical teams, burn survivors and families in New York at the World Burn Congress and places from Kiribati in the Pacific, Delhi, Singapore, Israel, Brussels to London. She says there are many themes and reasons why she writes, including bullying, feminism, and advocacy for peace.

‘Bullying, especially school bullying, after my son Jack was bullied at school, led to me writing the I Am Jack books. The search for identity features in my young adult novels, and advocacy for peace, in my picture book Elephants Have Wings and my young adult books, such as Heroes of the Secret Underground.’

Feminism for girls between 8-10 is a strong theme in Daisy Sunshine and in her young adult novel about the second rise of feminism, Shadows of Olive Trees. She says her father is ‘in everything she writes’, from picture books to adult short stories.

‘My father was the bravest man I knew. His courage in war, escape from Hungary, the refugee camp and making a new life in Australia, makes him a hero. His terrible brain tumour and early death, drove me to start writing.’

Her children and family inspire much of what she writes.

‘I sucked out my son’s life to write the young adult novel The Cave. My picture book, The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses, was inspired by my grandchildren and the impact of glasses and vision on your life.’

Susanne loves MonkeyBaa Theatre, which in her view is Australia’s premier youth theatre company. Monkey Baa adapted her novel I Am Jack into a play that toured 8 times across Australia and the USA.

‘I am proud to be a Patron of MonkeyBaa together with Jackie French and Morris Gleitzman.’

Five Things About Susanne’s Current Work

1. After 4 years of writing, Heroes of the Secret Underground has finally been published by HarperCollins. It’s a book I have been writing all my life. Part autobiographical, part historical, philosophical, intermingled with fantasy, it’s a thrilling time slip from the year 2000, the International Year of Peace in Australia, to Budapest 1944 at the time of the Holocaust.

2. I want to share the endorsements of Heroes of the Secret Underground from the Australian Laureates with you. I am deeply touched by them:

This book will enchant you with its mystery, excitement, adventure, and the extraordinary courage of its characters. It will be impossible to stop reading, and when you finish the book you’ll find the insights and compassion stay with you always, as do those you have met within its pages. As Susanne weaves in stories from her family’s secrets, she writes about the essence of humanity.’

Jackie French AM Australian Laureate 2014-2015  Senior Australian of the Year

This is a personal story that has huge meaning to all of us, beginning in a beautiful safe world which turns suddenly to chaos and terror. A child discovers for herself that there is history that can’t be hidden – it cries out in the darkness of secrets. But it’s also a story of light and love and exceptional courage. The pages seemed to turn by themselves.’

Ursula Dubosarsky Australian Laureate 2020-2022

3. I wrote The Cave (HarperCollins) when I was exploring an all-boys school and their culture. It was well before the issue of CONSENT and boys’ attitude to gender. While the reviews were very good, it was before the ‘market’ and gatekeepers were ready to accept the premise. I want to relaunch it for that male and female upper teen age group.

4. Picture Books are a relatively new area for me, but I love the gift of an illustrator creating a partner narrative with my words. I am working on a new picture book – There’s A Gang in my Street – and will submit to a publisher. My last picture The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall is a gorgeous book endorsed by Vision Australia recognises the impact of vision impairment.

5. I am working on the audio of my young adult novel Shadows of Olive Trees. Excited at selecting the actor/narrator and can’t wait until it becomes available on all audio platforms.

Five Things That Help Susanne Keep on Writing

  1. My community of children’s writers and illustrators. I am head of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) Australia East & New Zealand.
  2. My own children support my writing and that is essential to me.
  3. The many emails I receive from teachers.
  4. The many emails I receive from parents.
  5. The many emails I receive from young people: ‘I loved Butterflies, it’s the best book of all time. Before reading butterflies I thought the only way to be pretty was to be perfect, the hair the face the looks, but it’s not true, I read butterflies in 3 days, I couldn’t put it down, it made me really feel good about myself, and think about what it would be like if I was katherine, she went through a lot and knew in the end that if she didn’t turn out perfect, it didn’t matter, she learnt to be grateful to be alive and live with her burns. It’s was one of the best books I have ever read, thankyou for giving me a masterpiece to read.

Source: Susanne’s books

In the future, Susanne hopes the leaders of the world take up the initiative to stop climate change.

‘The world needs to survive and flourish, as it is a fragile and extraordinary planet.’

She hopes for the end of domestic violence and sexual abuse and for a family court system that places the child at the centre of the proceedings and not the parents.

‘I write story to create a safe place for kids and young adults, when their world becomes unsafe. As an author I do not write for financial reasons, but seek to partner young people to navigate their challenges and always find a way forward. I hope kids who need that friend in a book, reach for my stories.’

Finally, she hopes those who read Heroes of the Secret Underground realise that she has invited them into her life and beliefs and find their own beliefs; ones that enrich them and those around them.

Find Susanne and her books here

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  1. Susanne Gervay on June 21, 2023 at 7:53 pm

    Thankyou for this review

    • Helen Edwards on June 22, 2023 at 9:54 am

      You are very welcome! Love your work

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