- Guest Author -
Welcome to an interview with a man who entertains kids.
Welcome, Michael ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
When I was 14 I wrote my first poem. After getting it into the school magazine at the end of that year, it won an award. I think that encouraged me to keep writing, so I wrote more poems, then songs, then comedy and radio and film and TV and lots of other things. Eventually (about 15 years ago) a small, newly-formed publisher asked me to have a go at writing a couple of educational books. I haven’t looked back since.
2. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I plan in a skeletal kind of way, then let the writing fill in the gaps in whichever creative way it choses. Which often leads to re-planning … then rewriting … then replanning, etc. I find when I plan too much, I get trapped in a rigid process that’s not much fun and not particularly creative. So I like to make a map that shows a few of the major turning points along the way, but doesn’t really tell me how to get there.
3. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Working from home and making kids laugh. I worked in offices for about 12 years and, as a result, can’t stand them. The distractions, the politics, the frenemies. I don’t know that I could it anymore, which makes me kind of unemployable, because I’m no good with a hammer either, unless I find a way to work at home – which is where writing comes in. And when I read a story to kids in a school and hear them laugh, I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile with my life.
4. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Waiting for money to come in. Sometimes it takes years to make any meaningful money from a story. The wait can be tough.
5. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I was a radio presenter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for ten years and I wrote all sorts of things before and after that: TV animation, film scripts (that never quite got made), songs, comedy, advertising copy, etc.
6. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
The 20-book Maxx Rumble series which has sold hundreds-of-thousands of copies and remains in print after 11 years. I don’t know that it’s the finest thing I’ve ever written (it almost certainly isn’t), but I’m very glad I wrote it.
7. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m always working on lots of things. It’s like my stories are all horses in a race and I never know which one is going to finish first. I have several picture books at various stages and some chapter books too. And other oddities things as well.
8. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Great stories, whether they’re in book, screen, theatrical, song or oral form. A great story makes me want to contribute to the culture as well. But I’m also inspired by the urge to support kids through those complicated, and sometimes tough early school years. Just making kids laugh makes me feel like I’ve helped them a little – that’s what I want to do, help kids.
9. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Humour for children of varying ages from 4 to 12.
10. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Read lots of books about the writing process, absorb everything you can, then forget it all and just write. And if you’re not enjoying yourself when you write, please stop being so hard on yourself. Perfectionism is a curse, just let your natural voice lead the way.
11. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Not so far. I keep a journal and fill it with random ideas. If you do that, you’ll end up with hundreds of ideas that help you get unblocked. I also work on more than one thing at a time, so if I’m running dry on one I can put it aside and work on something else for a while. But if you’re stuck on a bigger piece, like a novel and it's the only thing you’re working on, maybe go and watch a movie or read a book. That way you’ll be feeding the cultural part of your brain, and getting ideas and inspiration.
12. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I write best in the morning, so starting by 9 or earlier is important to me. Other than that, I take each day as it comes.
13. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
My study. It’s small, messy, cosy and safe. I often close the blinds so it’s dark too. But apart from that, overseas. When I’m travelling, my imagination seems to spring to life.
14. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Reading to kids who are clearly enjoying what they’re hearing.
15. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Any comment acknowledging the heart in my silly stories. It’s hard to see past the broad humour sometimes, critics often struggle, but when my readers get it, I feel elated and a little relieved.
16. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
I think everything I write is in some way influenced by things that have happened to me. I reckon we often write to repeat or replace our memories. If our memories are good, we repeat them and share them in our stories. If they are bad, we rewrite them and share them in the sort of way we wish they’d occurred, or resolved. Either way, it’s therapeutic to transform the things that have happened to us into stories.
17. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Music. Sport. Good TV, great movies and quality radio. I grew up in a very poor, dysfunctional family and these are all the avenues my young mind saw as ways to a better life. I’ve been very interested in them ever since.
18. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I didn’t with my first self-published book, Pig Dude: He Can Do ANYTHING!, but I read it more than a dozen times to audiences, creating fresh drafts between many of the reads. Things get very refined when they’re tested in public – you become extremely aware of what works and what doesn’t. But if I couldn’t read the whole thing to an audience, I would have definitely employed an editor. I did employ a proof reader even with a 1000 word book. That is vital.
19. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I imagine I’m in every one of my characters. I think it’s inevitable because they’re created in my imagination. If they’d come from someone else’s imagination, they would have been different. I figure they’re part me because they’re limited (or enhanced) by my imagination.
20. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I’ve been writing a couple of book of poems for very young children which have been incredibly fun to create. I love that they’re quick to emerge, like songs, and don’t require all any agonising or trawling through intricate details. They’re quick and fun.
21. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
That life is worth living. That you can say serious things in a playful way. That we’re not alone.
22. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
I’ve just released my first self-published book – Pig Dude: He Can Do ANYTHING! The other 72 I’ve written were published by others. My new publishing venture is called Billy Goat Books.
23. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Resilient. Playful. Persistent. Honest. (and as ironic as it sounds at this moment) Humble.
24. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Criticisms from people who think their taste is definitive and have no idea what most children like to read. It strikes me as a form of narcissism. And pathological narcissism is the other thing that really pisses me off… Actually, I’d better stop there.
25. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
A Man Called Ove. It was one of the best book I’ve ever read. So humane and gentle and fun, and full of heart.
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Michael. Keep writing and making kids laugh. Not everyone can do that. It's a gift.