This reading life: Ursula Dubosarsky

6 February 2018

Award-winning Australian writer Ursula Dubosarsky has written more than 40 children’s books, including three non-fiction works about grammar and etymology, as well as a new novel, The Blue Cat. She has been described as "the most graceful, most original writer for young people in Australia – probably the world".

Ursula will be a guest at 2018 Writers & Readers in Wellington, 8–11 March. Her sessions include a conversation about her writing with Lydia Wevers and a session on 'word fun' for young readers with Nick Earls and Kate De Goldi.

The first book to capture my imagination was Biquette the White Goat by Francoise, one of the first books I learned to read (and which I still know more or less by heart).


The book I studied at school that has stayed with me most is An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden. It’s about a girl called Loveday and her street friends creating a little community garden in post-Blitz, half-destroyed, rubble-filled London.


The author I am most likely to binge-read is Barbara Pym. All of her over and over again. So funny, so sad, so understated. If only there were another dozen novels!


The book I am most likely to press on a friend is Angel by Elizabeth Taylor – about a terrifyingly terrible writer, but one with whom I think probably all writers can identify at some point.

The book I have reread the most is The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani. Set in Ferrara Italy in the 1930s, about a friendship between a Jewish student and a gay doctor, and their gradual respective exclusion from society. I love all this writer’s magnificent, elegiac books, but this is the one I reread the most often.


If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book with me, it would be ... Well, the nearest thing to a desert island experience is some time I spent in a kibbutz in the desert 25 years ago and I had a copy of David Copperfield – I had to pick something that would last a long time and would bear re-readings. And it did.


Bookmark, scrap of paper or turning down the corner of the page? All three – and none of them seem very effective!

The first 50 pages or bust? Or always to the bitter end? Oh, I think you can tell much earlier than 50 pages. To quote Joseph Conrad, “Even the most artful writer will give himself (and his morality) away in about every third sentence.”

To quote Conrad, “Even the most artful writer will give himself (and his morality) away in about every third sentence.”


My favourite cinematic adaptation of a book is A Few Days from the Life of I. I. Oblomov, directed by Nikita Mikalkhov in 1980, based on Goncharov’s 1859 novel Oblomov, about a man who wants to stay in bed, dreaming of his childhood. I also loved the 2012 adaptation of What Maisie Knew, with Julieanne Moore.


A line of writing I can recite from memory is “What was the matter with Mimi? No-one could tell. Even the doctor did not know.” (See answer to question one!)


My favourite 19th-century book is The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll.


My favourite 20th-century book is Ultima Thule by Henry Handel Richardson.

My favourite contemporary writers are Jane Gardam and Patrick Modiano.

The book currently by the side of my bed is Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.


Check out the full 2018 Writers & Readers programme here.