KBC is delighted to welcome the talented Michael Gerard Bauer with this insightful interview into the life of a very interesting (and funny!) author. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I have.
Hello, MGB. What’s your story?
I was born, grew up and went to school in Ashgrove Brisbane Queensland (the setting of The Running Man). I also had my very first teaching appointment at a school in Ashgrove. Teaching was my career before writing, but as a struggling Uni student I did a variety of things to earn money such as mowing lawns and working in a pineapple cannery. I was also a car park attendant, a letter box stuffer and a very nervous target operator at a rifle range (just one mistake and you pay for it the rest of your life!).
I’m married to Adriana (who considers herself the luckiest woman in the world and yet has stated openly she would drop me in a flash for Hugh Jackman) and we have two grown up children Meg and Joe. I now live in Enoggera, the suburb that borders on Ashgrove. Yes, I’ve come a long way.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Not really. I would have written some stories for school in English classes but I don’t ever remember writing stories just for me while I was at school. I started writing more after I left and went to Uni. The first things I wrote were poems, songs and comedy sketches.
I would have written my first short story when I was teaching. I was always going to write and send off short stories to see if I could get them published in magazines. I never did. There was one short story I was going to write based on a poem I’d written around a childhood memory of me looking for silkworms in our backyard mulberry tree. I never did write that one, but eventually it grew into a much larger story in my head and became The Running Man
What inspired you to write for young readers?
Being a high school English teacher and developing a love of YA novels had a lot to do with it. But I’d like to think that what I write isn’t just for young readers. I actually don’t often find myself thinking consciously of writing for a particular audience or year level. When I wrote The Running Man and the Ishmael series and even Just a Dog I was writing basically for myself. I wrote the stories that made me laugh or cry – the ones that were important to me. Those stories all happened to have young people as their focus and I think that’s because adolescence is a time of such raw and heightened feelings and emotions, and that makes for powerful and engaging stories.
How did you get your first book published? Come on, spill!
I resigned from my full-time teaching job halfway through 2000 to have a go at writing the story that had been in my head for more than a year. When I resigned I hadn’t written a single word of it. Over the next two and half years, in between a various short teaching contracts, I eventually finished a manuscript in 2003. It was called In Dream Too Deep.
I researched publishers (important to do) using the Australian Writer’s Marketplace (a very useful publication) and made a list of the top ten companies that I thought would be most likely to be interested in my story if it was any good.
My plan was to send the manuscript out in multiple submissions and when I got rejected ten times I would return to teaching being able to say that at least I gave it a reasonable shot. (Over-confidence is not one of my strong points.) The first reply I received was a phone call from Dyan Blacklock at Omnibus Books/Scholastic Australia with an offer to publish. Still the best phone-call of my life. Dyan told me she loved the ms but said if she published it she would like to change the title to The Running Man. (That was the title I always wanted but I thought I couldn’t use it, because some up-start writer called Stephen King had already written a story called that!)
Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel has recently been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Award 2012 (Older Readers category). How did it feel to receive this news?
Bitterly disappointing! I just assumed the CBCA would scrap the whole short-list business this year and immediately anoint Hoops of Steel as the obvious undisputed winner!
It was a huge thrill and an honour. You always hope for miracles, but I really didn’t expect it. I’m extremely proud of how Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel turned out, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finish the series in the style I thought it deserved. But as a third book in a trilogy and also a comedy, I didn’t give it much hope. Making the Notables list was great, so I’m over the moon to go that step further and so thankful to the CBCA and the judges for including my book on what is an outstanding shortlist.
What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your writing journey?
I actually feel my writing journey has been blessed so far. The biggest obstacle I faced, especially at the beginning, was my lack of confidence and self belief. But I don’t think I’m alone with that one.
[Ed: You’re not alone with that one.]
Describe a typical writing day.
I wish it were a more ‘typical’ day, but a ‘good’ writing day for me would start with getting up at about 6 am and going for an hour’s walk. This is a great way to sort things out in your mind and to come up with ideas and inspiration.
After a shower and breakfast I would write pretty much through to lunch. Then after lunch I’d go till around 4 or 5pm. I don’t often write at night. I do everything on the computer even though I’m pathetically slow on the keyboard. Thankfully I type at just the right speed for my brain. (Make of that what you will!)
I’m also not a ‘fast’ writer. I tend to change and edit a lot as a go along. I like my first draft to be as strong and as close to the final product as I can get it. If I managed to get down 2000 words in a day I’d be so proud of myself I’d probably take the rest of the week off! Perhaps I could be a touch more disciplined in my approach to my writing . . .
If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Realistically I’d be a teacher but in my dreams I’d be a singer-songwriter in the style of Bob Dylan or Jackson Brown or Tom Waits. In Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs, I made Ishmael’s dad the singer-song writer of the band The Dugongs, so I could write lyrics for their songs and include them in the story. I had fun pretending to be a songwriter. Then a couple of years ago I got to play and sing those songs at the White Ravens Children’s Literature Festival in Munich along with the band that performed them on the German Audio version of the book. My dream of being a singer-songwriter finally came true – for one night only!
Which book did you wish you’d written?
Here’s a few I’d kill to have my name on: The Messenger or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Chaos Walking Triolgy by Patrick Ness. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. There are plenty of others.
Describe yourself in five words:
Indecisive, no wait, more like …
Which children’s book character are you most like and why?
Ishmael Lesuer from the Ishmael trilogy. Mainly because I based him quite a bit of me, particularly when I was young. I think I shared his humour and his ability to make weird and loyal friends, and also his lack of self-belief and his dread of speaking in public. Plus I’d like to think we both had our hearts in the right place. And definitely like Ishmael, my special subject at school was ‘unrequited love’. The really tragic thing is that by the end of Year 12, Ishmael ends up having more success with his ‘Kelly Faulkner’ than I ever had with mine!
What one piece of advice do you have on writing for kids?
Try not to grow up too much, and then write for that kid inside you.
What’s next for MGB?
Some time this year I hope to start work on a serious YA novel; something in the mould of The Running Man. However at the moment I doing the final edits on a funny (he says optimistically!) 20,000 word story for younger readers. It’s about the trials and tribulations of a boy in Grade 5. All things going well, it will be the first of a three or four book series. But what I’m most excited about with this project, is that my totally awesome and brilliant son Joe, will be the illustrator! (Proud Dad alert!)
Thanks to the gorgeous Tania and Kids Book Capers for letting me ramble on!
Learn more about Michael and his amazing books at [email protected] or visit him on Facebook: Michael Gerard Bauer. You can also access teacher’s notes for Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel right here, and to see what all the fuss is about (and read a sensational story, to boot!) check out Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel.