FAQs - frequently asked questions

From where Duncan lives to Selby's real name, there's a host of information for you in the questions and answers that follow...

Where do you live?

In Sydney, Australia.

Are you married?

Yes. My wife's name is Jill.

Do you have any children?

I have two sons: Eliot and Ian. They're both grown up. Ian and his wife, Donna, have three sons.

When and where were you born?

I was born in February, 1941, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Do you have any pets?

Yes, we have a cat called Jasper. He's very unusual because he's a ginger cat but he doesn't have any stripes. He's a darling.

What's your favourite colour?

Magenta (It's sort of a purply reddy colour.)

What do you like?

Talking to friends, bushwalking, painting paintings, eating and listening to music. Oh, and reading books.

What kind of music do you like?

Almost anything by Mozart.

What don't you like?

People who don't like animals and pumpkin (unless it's in pumpkin pie).

How many books have you written?

I'm not sure but I think it's between 60 and 65. The best-known ones are the series about Selby, the talking dog, and another series about Emily Eyefinger (who was born with an eye on the end of her finger).

What made you become a writer?

I always loved making up stories. I thought about writing books for years before I wrote one. My first book was published in 1978.

What is it like being a writer?

It's great. I work at home and take breaks whenever I want. The worst part is having to think up new ideas.

Do you draw the pictures in your books?

No. The Selby books are illustrated by Allan Stomann and the Emily Eyefinger books are illustrated by Craig Smith. They're both wonderful illustrators.

Do you work closely with the illustrators?

No. I've known Allan Stomann for many years but we almost never see each other. And I've never even met Craig Smith! When I write something I email it to my editor. The editor then fixes any mistakes and sends it on to an illustrator. The illustrator then draws and paints the illustrations.

What's your favourite book that you've written?

I don't have one favourite. I like the Selby and Emily Eyefinger books. I also like Piggott Place, Piggotts in Peril, and the picture books My Dog's a Scaredy-Cat (illustrated by Craig Smith) and Jeremy's Tail (illustrated by Donna Rawlins).

Who is your favourite character to write about?

Selby. But I also love to write about Emily Eyefinger. Bert Piggott is another favourite. He's only twelve years old but I still think of him as being like me when I was twelve.

What did you work at before you were a writer?

I studied Mathematics and Chemistry at university and I worked as an Industrial Chemist. I still like the sciences a lot.

What would you do if you weren't a writer?

I’d like to be a painter.

When do you think you'll stop writing?

When I get bored with it or when I die.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Getting ideas is the hardest part of writing. I'm always on the lookout for ideas. Sometimes I see something or hear something or read something that gives me an idea and sometimes an idea just pops into my head.

The idea for Emily Eyefinger came from a conversation I had with my wife. She was telling me about when she was in Year 2 at Coffs Harbour Primary School and her teacher asked the class where they'd like to have a third eye if they could have three eyes. After the kids had told her their ideas, the teacher said, "Think of all the things you could do if you had an eye on the end of your finger." When I heard that I thought, "What a great idea for a book! It'll be about the adventures of a girl who was born with an eye on the end of her finger."

What is Selby's real name?

I don't know. He won't tell me. The reason he keeps his real name (and the name of the town he lives in and the names of his owners) a secret is so that no one can find "the only talking dog in Australia and, perhaps, the world" and "ruin his life forever". He rings me up and tells me his stories and I just write them down but he never, ever, tells me his real name. Even when he's dropped in on me he was wearing his dog suit disguise so that I couldn't see what he looked like.