Your short story ‘Fallen Angel’, in the AusLit charity anthology Humanity: A Short Story Collection, deals with bravery.
I was always a puny kid. Still am. So big, chunky heroes never really appealed to me but rather the small, well, puny ones. I love exploring bravery in characters when they don’t think they have any or will never be able to be as brave as the other, larger characters who are always tagged as the courageous ones. I love exploring the idea that, in fact, you often don’t know how brave you can be until you are plunged into a mire of your greatest fears. That’s when things usually get really interesting.
Angel stories are currently popular and are, to an extent, replacing the recent popularity of vampire fiction as many of its fans look for something similar but new. What are your thoughts on angel fiction, and are there some particular types or directions in angel fiction you would personally like to see explored further (or less)?
The guise of angels or vampires in fiction is just that….a guise. Ultimately, readers are in search of good stories that move and excite them. For me personally, I love speculative fiction with a real world base but with the twist of the unexpected or paranormal. Real human emotions, needs, loves and betrayals but with a touch of other-worldiness.
Your latest book Grimsdon is set in a fictionalised version of London, just as author such as authors such as John Flanagan have used fictionalised settings based on real regions of the world at a particular time period in the past in the Ranger’s Apprentice series and John Birmingham, in Without Warning and After America, or Suzanne Collins, in the Hunger Games series, has used a transformed future United States as a setting. What is the appeal for you in writing a fictionalised version of a real place to set your story?
The appeal was that in Grimsdon, London is instantly recognisable on one level and on another, a place we’ve never seen quite like this. It was important that this novel had a real location because the story is a real, ‘what if’….in that I wanted to imagine what would happen if warnings about a city’s future were ignored and it was faced with destruction. Of course, as with the question of bravery above, the kids who are left behind in this now abandoned city, adapt and become people they never thought they could be.
In addition to contributing to the AusLit charity anthology, which will benefit world literacy/education and writer development, you are Australia’s 2010 National Literacy Ambassador and a Room to Read Ambassador. What advice do you have for people out there who want to do something to help develop literacy skills in their family, local area, country, another country or the world?
In a local sense, let your kids see you reading. Easy for us book lovers. This is a huge, osmotic process. Make reading fun and if you don’t have time to read to your kids, see if you can enlist help from other family to do it. Uncles, aunts, grandparents. Reading doesn’t only have to be at bedtime and as someone who loves audio books, maybe share an audio book in the car on long trips. Further a field, you can help by volunteering at your kids’ school to help kids read. If you have the resources, you can help organisations who help bring books to kids who don’t have them such as the brilliant Room To Read who have created over 10 000 libraries and distributed 9.4 million books in developing nations, IBBY (The International Board on Books for Young People) have similar aspirations in delivering books to kids who don’t have them and the Indigenous Literacy Project that delivers resources to indigenous communities in Australia. The websites are:
What is the key to balancing adventure and comedy in a good adventure comedy story and making both aspects work well together?
Make sure your characters don’t disappear. Number one. All the action and adventure in the world, no matter how exciting, will feel hollow if your reader doesn’t care about your characters. If they care, they will go almost anywhere with you.
In your experience speaking at writer’s events and schools, what is one of the most helpful pieces of feedback you have received from a young reader?
It’s funny this question comes after the one above. The most poignant advice really is a comment about how the readers feel about the characters…how they felt like them, or wanted to be them, or cried for them or laughed with them.
What are some of the fiction books you are most looking forward to reading in 2011?
Ahhh!!! I have been scanning the Literary catalogues to see what is upcoming and there are just so many to mention….sorry. A lot of them are kids’ titles.
In your previous AusLit interview, you discussed Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm series (of which fellow charity anthology contributor Shaun Micallef is also a fan). You described the Professor Branestawm series as a “series about an absent minded inventor whose every invention is brilliant but also leads to some kind of trouble. So there was the same conceit to each novel – a new invention that would go wrong – but the joy was in watching how it would go wrong this time.” Having written two fiction book series yourself, what advice would you give to someone trying to develop a good idea to sustain a fiction book series?
Ahh now that’s a good question. I am in the middle of finishing a new novel that will be the first in a series and I had to ask myself the same question…several times. Characters, it wont surprise you to hear me say, are most important. They not only have to go on a journey over one book but over a series, so they have to sustain interest over the arcs of both. Geoffrey McSkimming, author of the Cairo Jim series, told me before I wrote the first Max Remy, to make sure you have thought of everything you will need for a solid basis in your first novel before you write. Therefore, the thinking, double-checking, forward thinking is huge before I start to write a series, as it was with this new one. Some novels want to be stand alones but others need the length and air of a series to tell the whole story. Decide which one yours is before you write.
In your previous AusLit interview, you mentioned you were working on a new series you described as “still kid-driven, with action, adventure and humour….and a few more ghosts.” Can you share any further details about this series and how it is progressing?
It’s going well….the characters are now talking to me and each other, acting instead of being directed, even being a little pushy. One even wanted to write poetry, which I’ve never written in my life. They can take over if you let them and it’s often lovely.
The Australian Literature Review