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Celebrity Spotlight: John Marsden
Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 1, No. 2 - March/April 2009

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How do you contribute to the education of kids?

I try to create an environment where they are not pressured and pulled and prodded all the time. A school where the teaching is sparky, edgy and interesting, where kids can be adventurous, and where they are trusted.

What is the most memorable part of attending The King’s School?

The quasi-military atmosphere! We marched around and carried rifles and saluted teachers and prefects... you don’t see that often in Australia! I don’t think it gave me the slightest respect for the military approach to life.

Please tell us about your family

My partner’s name is Kris, and she’s a wonderful person, creative and intelligent. We have six boys, aged between 4 and 14. My mother is still going strong, at 89, and I have two sisters and a brother.

What are your hobbies?

It sounds boring to say education, but I’m fascinated by it. Also, I love backyard cricket, on-line scrabble, and reading.

Why did you choose teaching over a career in law?

Law seemed so rigid. I had the feeling that a career in law would change me and shape me into a person who was different to the kind of person I wanted to be. Teaching allowed me to be creative, to work with people, to do something socially important... oh yeah, and to have long holidays!

What is the most memorable part of your first job at a mortuary?

The bodies were so uncooperative. When you tried to move them, they did nothing to help at all.

What are your career highlights?

Taking the manuscript of the next book in the ‘Tomorrow’ series, to a young woman who was dying of cystic fibrosis, because she wanted to read it before she died.

Winning the Lloyd O’Neil Award for contributions to Australian publishing.
Seeing kids at Candlebark do stuff- like a Grade 3 boy at lunchtime yesterday doing a kind of dance with a plastic bag and a stick, for ten minutes or so, with me thinking “At many schools he wouldn’t feel free enough to express himself like that.” 

What do you value most in life?

The emotional health of all people, but perhaps especially children.

What is your most unforgettable personal experience?

Opening a carton and seeing the published copies of my first book, `So Much to Tell You’.

What is your favourite Australian destination and why?

The Cross-Cut Saw, which I used as the setting for the ‘Tomorrow’ series. These wild, strong, fierce Victorian mountains attract me with a power I can never resist.

What is your best overseas experience?

I guess just walking the streets of Paris. I could do that all day, every day. The shop windows, the passers-by, even the cars and bikes, are like a great free art show.

What do your books offer readers?

I hope, with some books, a chance to understand life a little better. That readers might understand themselves and others at a deeper level perhaps, by reading books like Checkers. With other books, just sheer escapism, to a different world where readers can be with characters that are somehow more attractive and interesting than anyone in real life!


With more than 30 books and over three million sales, John Marsden is one of the most successful teen writers. He is a leading author of teenage fiction and his controversial novels have a loyal following in Australia and overseas.

Born in 1950, John’s family moved to Sydney when he was 9 years old. He was enrolled at The King’s School, Parramatta, renowned for its military style of education.

He taught at Geelong Grammar School, and became Head of English at the school’s Timbertop campus.

In 1982, he spent an overnight stint in jail after being arrested while on the blockade to stop construction of the Franklin Dam. This experience provided the inspiration for “Letters from The Inside” and parts of the ‘Tomorrow’ series.
John’s ‘Tomorrow’ series is recognised as the most popular Australian book series for young adults. His first book of this series, “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, has been reprinted 26 times in Australia.

His current project is developing an alternative school, Candlebark, on his bush property, in the foothills of the Macedon Ranges, half an hour north of Melbourne airport, and near Hanging Rock. It opened on 31 January 2006. In 2008 the school had 87 students ranging from Prep to Year 9.

This school encourages students to take calculated risks. “Take care, take risks” could be seen as the school motto.

Candlebark aims to attain the highest possible academic standards and good manners, in a tranquil, beautiful setting. There is no school uniform, and everyone is on a first name basis.

Classes are small; in 2008 they ranged from 5 to 15. For many years, John has argued that private and public Australian schools are full of rigid structures, overbearing rules and cumbersome frameworks which all deter learning.
He urges for the breakdown in communication barriers between adults and young people and a focus on confidence building.

John’s ideal school has high physical, moral and academic standards and these have been woven into the culture of Candlebark.

At Candlebark there is an endearing relationship between the staff and the students. John states that in novels and schools, the emphasis is on relationship building.

The first thing a school should pay attention to is the physical environment, whether it is located in the city or the country. Beauty is important and it should surround young people so that they grow up in that atmosphere.

Schools need to be full of surprises, innovative, flexible and should maintain a high academic standard.

He wants a school that has a good sense of humour and an expectation that there is a “yes” to things instead of “no”.

Teachers at Candlebark have extraordinary skills and backgrounds! The science/IT teacher holds a Ph.D., the art teacher is a well-known and successful artist and published poet. One of the music teachers has had works commissioned by Opera Australia and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. And, English teacher, John Marsden is a renowned, best selling author.

John Marsden’s published books include:

  • The ‘Tomorrow’ series
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993)
  • The Dead Of The Night (1994)
  • The Third Day, The Frost (1995)
  • Darkness, Be My Friend (1996)
  • Burning For Revenge (1997)
  • The Night Is For Hunting (1998)
  • The Other Side Of Dawn (1999)
  • The Ellie Chronicles - follow up series to the ‘Tomorrow’ series:
  • While I live (2003)
  • Incurable (2005)
  • Circle of Flight (2006

More Information

Candlebark School
83 Kerrie Road
Romsey VIC 3434
P: (03) 5427 0384 
F: (03) 5427 0395

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