Anna Fienberg grew up in a house filled with books. Her mother was a teacher librarian who relished stories as much as chocolates. 'On Sunday mornings we'd all lie in bed with our books, lost in magical wardrobes, witches’ spells, genies’ magic... What we were going to read next was just as important in our family as what was for lunch!' says Anna.
Anna started writing stories when she was eight, but never imagined being an author. She studied psychology, fascinated by the dark world of dreams. She gave up counselling after an unfortunate incident with an enraged man and a chair (he missed!), began writing and scored the best job in the world. 'Working for School Magazine was a treat,' Anna says. 'I couldn't believe you could get paid for sitting back comfortably in your chair, cappuccino in hand, reading over a thousand books a year. Heaven!' Of course, as an editor she also had to write reviews and articles, stories and plays. One of those stories for School Magazine later became her first book.
'Tashi began as a conversation with my mother. She was telling me how, when she was a child, she used to tell whoppers. Creative fibs. Tall stories. And the kids would crowd around, dying to hear the latest tale. We began talking about a character like her - a character who told fantastic stories - and over many cups of tea we cooked up Tashi’ - Anna Fienberg.
What was your favourite book as a child?
‘My favourite books as a child were the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe contained the best idea, I thought, anyone could ever come up with. Imagine, opening up a wardrobe door and instead of finding shoes and shelves of jumpers, stepping out into a snowy land. To me, it was like all books expressed in this one idea – the magical delight of opening a first page, and being transported beyond the ordinary, into the extraordinary.’
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
‘The best thing about being a writer is that you can sit around in your pyjamas all day and talk to yourself – and not feel guilty because it’s your job! You can be alone with your imagination and your lantern, embarking on secret and dangerous journeys, and be back in time to pick up the children and make the dinner. The worst things are that no one is telling you to sit down at the computer, you have to tell yourself to work but sometimes, if you’re stuck, or a character is being rebellious and sulking, you drift off and clean the kitchen floor and you don’t write enough.’
Where do you do your writing?
‘I write at home, in my bedroom. I have a small desk and a computer near my bed, so I just have to drift across a couple of steps and I’m at work (in my pyjamas). I do carry a notebook though and, if I get a good idea, I jot it down. Often, listening to the radio in the car I hear something interesting and pull over for a minute. If I haven’t got a notebook I write on my shopping list. It might go something like this: dozen eggs, 2 cucumbers, carrots, mutton birds migrate from Australia toward Japan and Siberia every year...’
What makes you laugh?
‘I love laughing. My son makes me laugh, he is a wonderful mimic. Lots of things make me laugh – watching people at the lights in their cars when they think no one is looking, my huge slobbery dog Fig who means well but is incredibly clumsy, my father’s dreadful puns, funny books, Kim Gamble’s accounts of his eccentric but hilarious childhood...’