Just before the new Diary Of A Wombat show began its national tour, author Jackie French joined us for a fascinating Facebook Live chat to discuss her classic book and its ambitious adaptation to the big stage.
Why did Jackie choose to write about wombats? Did one really poo on her keyboard as she was writing Diary? And how did Mothball the wombat get her name? She answered all these questions and more.
Here’s seven things we learned from her interview – watch it now.
1. The real story behind Mothball the wombat’s name
Answering a question from listener Daisy, Jackie revealed how the book’s real-life star got her curious name.
“Mothball was an orphaned wombat discovered in Canberra. She’d be very badly bitten by dogs and was rescued by WIRES and taken to a vet. When her fur began to grow back again, she looked like she’d be moth-eaten so they called her Mothball.
“Eventually her fur all came back and she grew into a very healthy, stroppy wombat. She’d learnt about carrots and rolled oats from her previous carers. She was given to us to learn how to be a wombat, that dirt is her destiny and you live in a hole…”
If there's one person who knows wombats, it's Jackie, but even she was fooled once or twice by the new show’s state-of-the-art furry friends.
“I remember at the early rehearsal, it was about 2pm in the afternoon and I had to stop myself from saying ‘we better stop, she’ll be tired now.’ It’s complete suspension of disbelief. I just completely accepted her as a real wombat.”
3. It wasn’t her choice to write about wombats
Hilariously, Jackie confessed she didn’t choose to write about wombats, apparently they chose her.
“[On my property] I used to have breakfast by myself sitting on a knoll," she explained. "One wombat used to graze where I had breakfast and he came closer and closer until he was actually having breakfast with me every morning. He would also sit on the doorstep while I played violin… I have to emphasise he’s probably the only creature on earth who has ever enjoyed the sound!
"He decided to be friends with me and show me the bush. Somehow I ended up spending most nights in the bush as he showed me things… he showed me springs, he introduced me to other wombats. It was an extraordinary friendship."
4. Diary was a dirty mess when she first sent it to publishers
Jackie revealed her manuscript made quite a first impression, but it wasn’t a good one.
“When the book was accepted, it was read for all the wrong reasons,” Jackie reveals.
“The wombat I was living with used to leave his droppings on my keyboard, so the ‘e’ key was soft and squishy. When I wrote the book, all the ‘e’s were in biro, it had lots of wombat smudges and I’m dyslexic so the spelling was terrible.
“It was picked up by the editor who picked it up and with a scream of laughter, said ‘everyone, look at this mess!’ They thought it would be unintentionally hilarious – only someone who was really dumb could have send it in. She read the book aloud to the entire office and then came back to her office and offered me a contract to publish it…”
5. Jackie was discouraged from writing from an early age
Guess she proved them wrong.
“I had written my first book when I was six years old, but I was always told by parents, teachers, guidance counsellors… 'no, dear, you cannot make a living as a writer – do something else when you leave school.' So I was writing as an amateur and kept writing book after book… I wrote in secret [for a long time].”
6. Jackie loves how her book has been adapted for the stage
She may be a bit biased naturally, but Jackie adores the way Diary has been translated to the big stage.
“The play is so funny, so beautiful, so clever, so wonderful," she says, elated. "Every good book is written in partnership with the reader. You put something on the page and the rest is their imagination. But when you see a stage play, the imagination has to be up there on the stage and that’s what Monkey Baa have done so extraordinarily well. They took all our imaginations and made them come true on the big stage."
7. Another book adaptation is already in the works
Diary Of A Wombat may have just started its tour, but Jackie revealed a little secret – her next stage project with Monkey Baa is already in the pipeline.
“As we are sitting here, the directors of Josephine Wants To Dance are down at our property on their first day of living with kangaroos, watching kangaroos and working out how on earth they’re going to make them dance. Next year Monkey Baa is going to do Josephine, which is absolutely impossible, but Monkey Baa specialise in doing the impossible and it’s going to be magic.”
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