“That’s the things about Clay – that’s short for Clayton, of course. You can build with it; but the only thing that will set it is fire…”, Markus Zusak trails off. He is describing the protagonist of his latest book Bridge of Clay, which follows his worldwide bestseller The Book Thief. The rain has just started to come down on the Main Tent at Charlotte Square. Its steady drum provides the perfect backdrop to Zusak’s storytelling.

Bridge of Clay is finally in print, 20 years after it was first conceived. Only a 23 year old at University, Zusak came up with the idea of the book; in which Clay would be building a bridge. Prompted by author and presenter Janet Ellis, he admits his life is totally changed now. He has his own family, two kids, and the novel has evolved with his changing feelings. But at the very core, it is evident that Zusak is familiar with the characters intimately from living and breathing them for so long. He talks about the process of his writing – about how he had a go at a different narrator for the first six years until he settled on the eldest of the Dunbar brothers. He talks about anecdotes from his kids that inspired him to write scenes, the effects of reading and also the relationship that he shared with his own siblings.

Of course, he acknowledges the success of The Book Thief gave him the opportunity “to travel the world, and to really see people.” And gathering all that emotional experience was what led him to the characters of this book and their inter-personal relationships.

Ellis has a nice, laidback style of interview and it is a distinct coincidence that her daughter also has five boys! Zusak answers audience questions with that streak of storytelling and the impulse to set everything in verse. His honesty is catching, as he confides, “I just wanted to celebrate the big-ness of everyday life.” And in the new book he promises, “Every word is accounted for.” A beautiful, intimate evening with an artist of international acclaim.