- Guest Author -
Welcome to the life of a very successful author. Duncan Ball was born in the USA, but came to Australia in 1974. We are glad he did.
Welcome, Duncan ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I wasn’t a good reader as a kid. It’s ironic that I now write them when I’d read so few early on. Having been a poor reader did make me aware that many kids are poor readers and, in order to get them reading I should make my writing as accessible as possible.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I became interested in writing as a teenager and read a lot and widely. Much later, when I was in my thirties and working as an industrial chemist, I wrote my first published work, an adult thriller. I had no idea how to go about it but just plunged in.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I’ve tried writing with careful planning, with no planning at all and with various degrees of planning. What works best for me is to have a general direction in mind and, sometimes, an ending. Then, as I write, I outline a bit of the road ahead but try not to make it too detailed in order not be too inhibited by it. And I keep altering the outline. In all the decision-making, there’s a lot of instinct. When I think I have enough material in hand I start to re-write. I do a lot of re-writing and polishing but being careful not to I destroy the freshness of the first draft. As with so much about writing, it’s a balancing act.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Within obvious limits, when you write the sort of fiction I do, you can write whatever you want. Because of the collaborative nature of writing for film and TV they’re not as much fun, although better paying.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Coming up with the ideas. That and making the plots work. The business side is also hard. The writers who have a head for business often aren’t the best writers and the good writers are usually hopeless at business. Much as authors hate it, they have to get involved in promoting themselves and their work. (More on this later.)
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I studied Mathematics and Chemistry at university and worked for some years as an industrial chemist.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
My greatest achievement is having written 75 or 80 books (I haven’t counted them). I’m a painfully slow writer so this has taken me many years. It would be immodest to say that, at their best, they are very good. So I won’t say that. My books have also won a number of awards. It’s fun to get a pat on the back.
Lots of things have come my way including having a group of Cree First Nations kids in Saskatchewan perform my play “The Perils of Prince Percy of Pomegranate” (which they re-titled, “The Perils of Chief Cimagasiw of Ciciganihk”) which went on to win a number of awards.
The Monkey Baa Theatre Company in Sydney adapted some of my Emily Eyefinger books to make a stage play. The play toured Australia over a couple of years and was a great success not only to Monkey Baa but also to my books. They did a fantastic job.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve recently finished a book of re-tellings of Japanese folk tales called, Two Tengu Tales from Japan. It will be illustrated by the wonderful David Allen and published in July 2015. I’m now working on the re-write of a book of my comedy plays for kids that has long been out of print. This was originally called Comedies for Kids but will be re-named, This School is Driving Me Nuts! and Other Funny Plays for Kids. It will be also published in July.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Reading. I love a well-crafted story, can’t turn the pages of most “page-turners” and am too easily bored by the kind of “literary fiction” that doesn’t have a strong storyline or it’s hidden behind annoying literary tricks.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I generally write fiction for kids of about six to twelve years of age. Much of my work, such as my Selby and Emily Eyefinger series, is in the form of funny short stories. I’ve also written a book of funny poetry called, My Sister Has a Big Black Beard.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Motivation is everything. Write to the best of your ability. It will be hard work---but it’s worth it. Don’t waste a lot of time reading books about how to write. You really have to feel your own way. Hemmingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”
Also---as much as successful authors hate to admit it---luck plays a role in the success of their writing. The only way to improve your chances is to put a lot out there.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
No. I’m neither well-organised nor disciplined. Somehow I manage to get the work done.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
My study. I can’t write anywhere else.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
I do like doing it. It’s a great feeling when things work.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I have so many. P. G. Wodehouse and Ian McEwan spring to mind but there are soo many more.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Kids write to me and they’re always complimentary. I’ve also had emails and letters from parents thanking me and saying that if it hadn’t been for my books their child would never had learned to read. They would have, of course, but it’s nice to think my books may have made a difference.
(I’ve received over ten thousand emails from kids since 2007. And, yes, I think I’ve answered them all.)
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
If kids take the time and trouble to write, they always say nice things. I can’t remember any bad ones.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, all the time. For example, I had some dental work done and my talking dog character, Selby suddenly developed a toothache, too. Selby didn’t want to see a vet and have the tooth pulled but wanted to see a real “people dentist” and get seen to properly. All of which set up a typical Selby problem. (See “By the Skin of His Teeth” in the book Selby’s Secret.)
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I enjoy bushwalking, cycling, swimming, painting, reading, among other activities.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
No. I just make sure it’s a problem-free as I can before I sent it to my publisher. I welcome constructive comments from editors and I think we owe them the respect of giving them the best writing we can for them to work with. Also, editors are under a lot of pressure these days and can’t be expected to catch every mistake so it’s best to make sure a MS is as clean as possible.
21. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Have breakfast. Work. Take a walk at lunchtime. Work again. I try not to work in the evening anymore because it keeps me from getting to sleep.
22. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To continue writing but, ideally, without deadlines. Deadlines have been helpful in the past but I don’t need the added stress.
23. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
My main characters always have bits of me in them. This goes for Selby (a dog), Emily Eyefinger (an 11-year old girl with an eye on the end of her finger) and Bert Piggott (a 12-year old boy).
24. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
25. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Often, but then what would I do? I would like to spend more time painting.
26. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
My book of funny poetry for kids, My Sister Has a Big Black Beard was fun to write and left me feeling---dare I say it?---proud of the result. It took a few years but I also worked on other books at the same time. It was very cleverly illustrated by Kerry Millard.
27. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
In two ways: There’s the artistic satisfaction and the monetary rewards that allow you to develop more of your time to it. Few writers can make a living from just writing. I’m one of the lucky ones.
28. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I try not to be didactic. I’m not out to teach. I’d like my reader to immerse themselves in the worlds I’ve created and to feel the whole range of emotion that the stories attempt to deliver.
29. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
The publisher designs the covers. This is very much a part of the marketing of books. People judge books by their covers. We all do. My publishers usually ask me for my input but, ultimately, they call the shots. I’ve had wonderful book covers that enhanced my books and dreadful ones that killed them.
30. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
If writers want to sell their books they have to get involved in the marketing. There are many ways to do this and I hate everything to do with it. I do any radio and TV interviews the publishers’ publicists line up but I really don’t enjoy them. I don’t like using social media to promote myself and my work but I still do some.
31. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No. The problem with self-publishing is distribution. Authors can’t do it and distributors don’t want to distribute books from someone who doesn’t have lots of “product”. And they take a big chunk of the sales price.
32. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
I just re-read Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. I loved it again.
33. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Children’s books usually have illustrations. I don’t do my own. I am very much in the debt of such great illustrators as Allan Stomann (for illustrating all nineteen Selby books to date) and to Craig Smith (who illustrated all sixteen Emily Eyefinger books and a couple of my other books. And I’ve had many other wonderful illustrators including as Donna Rawlins, Noela Young, Mark David, Kerry Millard, Kevin Burgemeestre and Mitch Vane. I would be nothing without them.
One of the unexpected pleasures of a writing life is travel. I’ve seen every corner of Australia plus trips to New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, China and many other places at the invitation of writing festivals and conferences, and visiting schools and libraries. So much for starving in a garret.
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Duncan, and well done. I'm glad that your writing has sent you across the globe. Your study looks very cosy, not to mention your deputy assistant director sitting on your desk.