The story that stayed put

THE first book Meg McKinlay ever wrote is her 12th to be published.

The Hamilton Hill writer was unable to get a guernsey for Bella and the Wandering House from fickle publishers back in 2007.

“No-one wanted it, so I put it in the bottom drawer,” she recalls. It’s a different story now she’s a well respected author of children and young people’s fiction.


• Meg McKinlay at South Lake Primary School with Angelina, Shirly, Ricardo, Kanbrey, Nyota, Taj, Jicheng and Jorja. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

A guest speaker at a dinner, she happened to relate the tale of the all-but forgotten story: Cate Sutherland from Fremantle Press was amongst the guests and asked to see the manuscript, despite the local publishing house having rejected it beforehand.

Sutherland’s deft editing and advice helped bring the tale to life: “I had the bare bones but didn’t know how to work it into something,” McKinlay says. “Sometimes you just need the right question to be asked at the right time.”

Although not set specifically in Fremantle there are elements of the author’s home in the tale of a wandering house: “I don’t mention Perth or Fremantle…but for me it’s set here.”

The sweetly written book is the story of Bella, who is surprised one morning to discover her house has moved in the night. At first not a lot, just a little.

Her parents are too busy to notice, but eventually even they can’t pretend it’s not happening when they awake to find they’re next to a lake.

The house is looking for something, and it’s up to Bella to discover what it is in a gentle tale that is whimsical and imaginative, McKinlay says.

“It’s a puzzle she has to put together.”

McKinlay grew up in a TV-free home in Bendigo, Victoria: “In mid-winter [dad] would hire a black and white TV for a couple of months, but it was always rationed.”

The kids roamed, read and played board games, and McKinlay created her own crossword puzzles and wrote poetry.

“In hindsight I think it was marvellous,” she says.

McKinlay has been shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Award and the Children’s Book Council of Australia book of the year. Her novel Surface Tension won the Children’s/Young Adult category of the 2012 Davitt Award for crime writing.


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