John Marsden (writer)

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John Marsden
Born (1950-09-27) 27 September 1950 (age 66)
Victoria, Australia
Occupation Writer, teacher, school principal
Nationality Australian
Period 1987–present
Genre Young adult fiction

John Marsden (born 27 September 1950[1]) is an Australian writer, teacher and school principal.[2] Marsden has had his books translated into eleven languages[3] including Norwegian, French, German, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Italian, Polish, and Spanish.[4]

Marsden was born in Victoria, Australia,[1] and spent his early life in Kyneton, Victoria, Devonport, Tasmania, and Sydney.[4] At age 28, after working several jobs, Marsden began a teaching course.[4] While working as a teacher, Marsden began writing for children, and had his first book, So Much to Tell You, published in 1987. Since then, he has written or edited over 40 books and has sold over 5 million books throughout the world.[5]

In 2006, Marsden started an alternative school, Candlebark School in the Macedon Ranges.[6] Marsden has since reduced his writing to focus on teaching and running the school. In 2016, he opened the arts-focused secondary school, Alice Miller School, also in the Macedon Ranges.[citation needed] He is also the patron of youth media organisation Express Media.

Early life[edit]

Marsden was born in Victoria, Australia and spent the first 10 years of his life living in the country towns of Kyneton, Victoria and Devonport, Tasmania.[4] He is a great great great great nephew of colonial Anglican clergyman and magistrate Rev. Samuel Marsden.[4] When he was 10 years old, Marsden moved to Sydney and attended The King's School, Parramatta.[4] Following his time there, Marsden was accepted into Sydney University to study a double degree in Law and Arts,[4] and attended university despite being confused about what he wanted to do.[7] However, Marsden struggled during his time there, and due to a sense of alienation and loneliness deriving from family rifts, educational experiences, and simply disliking law, he dropped out.[4][7]

After leaving University, Marsden became depressed, and attributes this depression in part to his inability to find a job that suited him.[7] As his depression deteriorated into suicidal thoughts, Marsden began seeing a psychiatrist. His psychiatrist eventually admitted him to a psychiatric hospital following a diagnosis of depression.[7][8]

Marsden credits his stint in the psychiatric hospital as an important period in his life:

It actually was very, very helpful, very constructive and very useful. Because I started learning about feelings and relationships and communication, and the way the world really worked. Where as I guess in the 1950s, at school especially, there was an emphasis on manners and appearances, and that seemed far more important than reality. So ever since, I've really distrusted appearance. I've been much more interested in reality and trying to get past that mask or that nice veneer and to find out what's really going on inside.[8]

— John Marsden

After his stint in hospital, Marsden continued to take on many different jobs, and through his 20s Marsden worked in as many as 32 different jobs,[8] including an abattoir, working in a mortuary, delivering pizzas, working as a motorbike courier, working as a nightwatchman, selling encyclopaedias and working with chickens.[7]

Following this period of drifting, Marsden decided, in 1978, to try a teaching career.[4] Marsden claims to have always had an inkling that he may try teaching, and from the first day of his teaching course Marsden was confident that this was the career that suited him.[7]

Writing career[edit]

Early career[edit]

While working at the prestigious Geelong Grammar School, Marsden made the decision to write for teenagers, following his dissatisfaction with his students' apathy towards reading,[4] or the observation that teenagers simply weren't reading any more.[7] Marsden then wrote So Much to Tell You in only three weeks, and the book was published in 1987.[4] The book sold record numbers and won numerous awards including "Book of the Year" as awarded by the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA).[9][10][11][12]

In the five years following the publication of So Much To Tell You, Marsden published six more books. Notable works from this period are Out of Time which was nominated by the CBCA as a notable book for older readers and Letters From the Inside and a sequel to So Much to Tell You called Take My Word For It which were both shortlisted for the CBCA's Children's Book of the Year: Older Readers award.[12][13] Upon publication in the United States Letters From the Inside received accolades from The Horn Book Magazine and the American Library Association.[14][14] American novelist Robert Cormier found the novel "unforgettable" and described John Marsden as a "major writer deserving of world-wide acclaim".[15]

Later career[edit]

In 1993 Marsden published Tomorrow, When the War Began the first book in the Tomorrow series and his most acclaimed and best-selling work to date. Marsden went on to write seven books in the Tomorrow series, together with a follow-up trilogy, The Ellie Chronicles despite originally intending for the entire series to only consist of a trilogy.

At the same time as writing the Tomorrow series, Marsden wrote several other novels such as Checkers, edited works such as This I Believe, wrote children's picture books such as The Rabbits, poetry such as Prayer for the Twenty-First Century and non-fiction works such as Everything I Know About Writing and Secret Men's Business.[1]


Marsden's earlier works are largely novels aimed at teenage or young adult audience.[1] Common themes in Marsden's works include sexuality, violence in society, survival at school and in a harsh world, and conflict with adult authority figures.[1] However, Marsden also has declared that he wishes to write about "things that have always been important for humans... [such as] love, for a start. And the absence of love. The way people relate to each other. The way people solve problems. Courage. Spirit. The human spirit."[7]

Awards and commendations[edit]

Marsden has won every major writing award in Australia for young people's fiction[16] including what Marsden describes as one of the highlights of his career,[17] the 2006 Lloyd O'Neil Award for contributions to Australian publishing.[18] This award means that Marsden is one of only five authors to be honoured for lifelong services to the Australian book industry.[19] John Marsden was also nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008, the world's largest children's and youth literature award, and the second largest literature prize in the world.[19]

Internationally, he has twice been named among Best Books of the Year by the American Library Association and once by Publishers' Weekly (USA), has been runner-up for Dutch Children's Book of the Year and short-listed for the German Young Readers' Award, won the Grand Jury Prize as Austria's Most Popular Writer for Teenagers, and won the coveted Buxtehude Bull in Germany.[5][16] However, despite his number of awards, Marsden has said that he generally does not care about awards (with the exception of the Lloyd O'Neil Award and The Melbourne Prize for Literature).[18]

In 1996, Marsden's books took the top six places on the Teenage Fiction best-seller lists for Australia.[1] Also in 1996, he was named "Australia's most popular author today in any literary field" by The Australian.[1] In 1997 Australian readers voted three of his books into Australia's 100 most-loved books of all time.[1]

In 2014, Lyndon Terracini announced that Opera Australia had co-commissioned Kate Miller-Heidke to write an opera based on Marsden's The Rabbits.[20] The work, The Rabbits, premiered in 2015 in Perth, and was staged in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, winning several awards.

Published works and awards[edit]

The Tomorrow series[edit]

Title Year Notes
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
While I Live 2003
Incurable 2005
Circle of Flight 2006

Other works[edit]

Title Year Notes
So Much to Tell You 1987
The Journey 1988
The Great Gatenby 1989
Staying Alive in Year 5 1990
Out of Time 1990
Letters from the Inside 1991
Take My Word for It 1992
Looking for Trouble 1993
Everything I Know About Writing 1993
Cool School 1996
  • Winner, KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards) 1998[21][39]
Creep Street 1996
Checkers 1996
This I Believe 1996
  • Editor
For Weddings and a Funeral 1996
  • Editor
Dear Miffy 1997
Prayer for the Twenty-First Century 1997
Norton's Hut 1998
The Rabbits 1998
Secret Men's Business 1998
Winter 2000
Marsden on Marsden 2000
The Head Book 2001
Millie 2002
The Magic Rainforest 2002
A Day in the Life of Me 2002
  • Illustrated by Craig Smith
The Boy You Brought Home 2002
A Roomful of Magic 2004
  • Illustrated by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter
Hamlet: A Novel 2008
Home and Away 2008
South of Darkness 2014


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Marsden, John – Teaching Australian Literature". Teaching Australian Literature. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  2. ^ "John Marsden – A different school of thought". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 30 May 2005. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  3. ^ "So Much to Tell You (John Marsden, summary)". Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "John Marsden – Biography" (PDF). John Marsden Official Site. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "John Marsden Biography". Pan Macmillan Australia. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  6. ^ Bedford, Kathy (17 September 2007). "'Simple philosophy' guides Marsden's school". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "John Marsden:". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 4 November 2004. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c "Enough Rope with Andrew Denton, Episode 47: John Marsden". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 21 June 2004. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "Winners and Commended Books 1980 – 1989". The Children's Book Council of Australia. Archived from the original on 16 December 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c "John Marsden – So Much To Tell You". Audio Books Direct. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f "So Much To Tell You by John Marsden". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Authors and Illustrators – M". CMIS. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Winners and Shortlists 1990 – 1999 – CBCA". The Children's Book Council of Australia. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c d "Letters From The Inside by John Marsden". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  15. ^ Cromier, Robert. "Letters from the Inside". Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  16. ^ a b "John Marsden – Griffith REVIEW". Griffith Review: A quarterly of writing and ideas. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  17. ^ "Get Ahead Kids: John Marsden Interview". Get Ahead Kids. 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  18. ^ a b "John Marsden – Interview". The Blurb: A Source for Australian Arts and Entertainment. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  19. ^ a b "John Marsden – Saxton Speakers Bureau". Saxton Speakers Bureau. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  20. ^ "Rabbits let loose as Opera Australia's Lyndon Terracini opts for high drama" by Matthew Westwood, The Australian, 12 August 2014
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Marsden, John 1950–". Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. 1 January 2004. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g "Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  23. ^ "ALA 1996 Best Books for Young Adults". Young Adult Library Services Association. 1996. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  24. ^ "American Library Association's 100 Best Books for Teens". Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  25. ^ "ALA 1998 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". Young Adult Library Services Association. 1998. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  26. ^ "ALA Nominations". American Library Association Young Adult Library Services Association. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  27. ^ "Australian Children's Choice Awards". CMIS. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  28. ^ "Tomorrow When The War Began". Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  29. ^ "The Dead of the Night by John Marsden". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  30. ^ "The Books Tomorrow-Movies – The No. 1 Fansite for John Marsden's 'Tomorrow, When The War Began', the Tomorrow Series and the upcoming Tomorrow Movies". Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  31. ^ a b c "TripAtlas – About Tomorrow Series". TripAtlas. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  32. ^ "The Third Day, The Frost by John Marsden". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  33. ^ "The Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award" (PDF). Australian Booksellers Association. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  34. ^ "The Night is for Hunting (The Tomorrow Series #6) by John Marsden". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  35. ^ "notables04pb". The Children's Book Council of Australia. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  36. ^ "Victorian Premier's Award". La Trobe University: Children's and Young Adult Literature. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  37. ^ "Christopher Awards – Books for Young People". Children's Literature Web Guide. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  38. ^ "ALA 1999 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". American Library Association Young Adult Library Services Association. 1999. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  39. ^ a b "Koala Book Awards". Library Thing. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  40. ^ "ALA 2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". American Library Association Young Adult Library Services Association. 2002. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  41. ^ "notables03pb". The Children's Book Council of Australia. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  42. ^ "Winners 2009 – CBCA". The Children's Book Council of Australia. Archived from the original on 5 January 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 

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