Working with Words: Marie Munkara

Marie Munkara is a Darwin-based writer of Rembarranga and Tiwi descent. She's the author of five books, including the novel, Every Secret Thing, which won the Northern Territory Book of the Year in 2010. Marie spoke with us about Weetbix-box cinema, reading the dictionary and advice from filmmaker Guillermo Arriaga.

Photograph of writer Marie Munkara

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. I got the book for my seventh birthday. It made me so miserable so I don’t know why I read it to the end. I felt real sorry for the main character, Tom, who was a chimney sweep and then became a water baby.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

He told me to not listen to anyone – just do what comes instinctively.

Yes I did. I loved the Secret Seven and Famous Five books and would rewrite the endings with me as Trixie the Detective, saving the day. I also wrote stories and illustrated them and gave them to my family for presents. I would make films and pull them through a Weetbix box that I’d made into a screen. As a teenager, I wrote book reviews.

Cover image of 'Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea' by Marie Munkara

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve had some pretty boring government jobs. That’s why I decided to become a full-time writer. The best one, though, was writing policy for the NT Health Department.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Gardening, working in horticulture.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice was from Guillermo Arriaga. he wrote Babel, The Burning Plain and heaps of other film scripts. He told me to not listen to anyone – just do what comes instinctively.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?

No. It seems pointless.

Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

Although it's not obscure, I think the dictionary is underrated. I love reading the dictionary.

Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with? 

 Unfortunately, he’s passed away, but I would have loved to have had dinner with J.R.R. Tolkien. He had a super amazing imagination.

Portrait of Marie Munkara

Born on the banks of the Mainoru River in Arnhemland, Marie Munkara has written two novels, two children’s books and a memoir which is currently being made into a film. Marie is currently working on two TV mini-series and is completing a PhD.

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