Books for Boys with Felice Arena & Tristan Bancks

Felice Arena and Tristan Bancks have both written extremely exciting, atmospheric books for boys this year (and girls like them too).

I’ve interviewed them both for the blog and here are Felice’s replies. (Tristan features in the next post)

You both have distinctive first names. Where are they from?

I was named after my grandfather – a longstanding tradition for many first-born sons in Italian families. Felice is pronounced Feh-LEE-che. Imagine growing up with that name in Country Victoria! Felice actually means ‘happy’ in Italian. And it pretty much reflects who I am – happy by name, happy by nature. My family and friends these days just call me ‘Fleech’ for short. Occasionally I get Felix, which is the English version of Felice (but that just makes me think of the cartoon cat).

Where are you based at the moment?

Melbourne.

You have both written an enviable backlist of books for boys. Could you mention some of these titles? 

The Specky Magee series, Sporty Kids, the Andy Roid series, Whippersnapper, and The Boy and the Spy.

I really enjoyed your gripping books published this year. Could you tell us about them – Felice about The Boy and the Spy and Tristan about The Fall (in the next post)?

The Boy and the Spy is a fast-paced WW2 adventure set in Sicily. A twelve year-old Antonio, an orphaned boy, has a chance meeting with an injured American spy hiding out in a grotto, the story launches into a heart-stopping story with action aplenty. Readers are kept in suspense as Antonio helps the spy evade German soldiers and gangsters, make contact with the Allies, and try to find a way to escape the island alive. An important theme carried throughout the story is the notion of family and how we define it.

What genre are they?

Historical-action novel.

Where are they set and how did you create the sense of place?

Wartime Sicily. My mother comes from that Italian isle and I still have relatives there. I’ve been to Sicily several times so I have a real sense of the terrain, which helped when writing the story. As far as the specific time period goes, that took a little more research, but I was able to consult with some family members to help authenticate the tone and settings in the book, and to capture 1943 in the dialogue, details from everyday life, and conditions related to the war.

How do you hook readers quickly into your story?

I love writing movement and action in my stories. A fast pace from the outset can engage some young reader who might not have the patience or attention span to read a slower unfolding plotline weighted down in meandering development. Adding a little movement with a sense of jeopardy or obstacles to overcome early on in the story is a good way to hook young readers quickly. Once they’ve connected with the characters in this way they’re more willing to pay attention to the deeper undercurrents of the story as they emerge farther along in the narrative.

Who are the major characters and why are they in this predicament?

There’s Antonio, an orphaned boy who is frowned upon and pretty much invisible in his seaside town. WW2 is the backdrop to his story, but for Antonio his daily battle is with prejudice. So when he meets a man who has literally dropped from the sky and talks to him as an equal and is desperate for his help, Antonio’s sees a chance to prove himself and deepen his own sense of self-worth. But with this unlikely alliance comes danger – the man is technically the enemy and Antonio is putting his life at risk to help him.

How is the writing style different from some of your other work?

This book heralds a new writing path for me. I’m known for writing contemporary sports-themed stories, and usually in third person. This book and my next book are written in first person and play out in a specific historical time and setting. I’ve wanted to write in this style for a long time, and I’m happy that it’s resonating with readers.

What do you think about each other’s book?

 I loved it. And I’m not just saying that because I know Tristan. What I admire about Tristan’s writing in this story, The Fall, (and Two Wolves) is that he never talks down to his reader. He doesn’t dumb it down. It’s smart and sharp writing, and it’s visual. I think Tristan and I share a love of cinematic storytelling. We both come from TV/film backgrounds, and I think this definitely comes through in our writing.

These books are both published by Penguin Random House. Do you cross paths because of that? Share editors? Go to meetings together?

We don’t share editors or go to the same meetings but we’ve attended the same events and festivals  – and have also shared the stage. Last year for PRH we gave a reading performance of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox at Federation Square in Melbourne. We’ve talked about doing more events together. 

What other books for boys would you recommend – recent and older?

Anything written by Michael Morpurgo, Neil Gaiman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, John Flanagan, David Almond, Gary Paulsen, Brian Selznick, Morris Gleitzman, Robert Newton, Adrian Beck, and… Tristan Bancks.

What are you writing about now or next?

I’m putting the final touches to another historical action story set in Paris in 1910 called Fearless Frederic. It’s about friendship, adventure, and what it means to have courage. It’s due to be published by Penguin Random House Australia April 2nd 2018.

What is significant to you about meeting your readers – as individuals or in a large group setting?

It’s incredibly significant. There’s no other joy like watching young readers hang onto every word you say as you read aloud to them. I would never pass up the opportunity to help jumpstart a love of reading in our next generation of book lovers. It’s also a chance for me to garner feedback and test out ideas – kids are brutally honest and will let you know if they like something or not.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to say thanks to those who have read any of my books and have reached out to me to say how much they’ve enjoyed them. This means a great deal to me. And if you’re just discovering my books for the first time, I hope you’ll also enjoy them.  Oh, and feel free to let me know over at instagram.com/fleech or www.felicearena.com

Thanks Felice, and all the best with The Boy and the Spy and your other books.

Books for Boys with Tristan Bancks & Felice Arena

Tristan Bancks and Felice Arena have both written extremely exciting, atmospheric books for boys this year (girls like them too).

I’ve interviewed them both for the blog and here are Tristan’s replies. (Felice features in the next post)

You both have distinctive first names. Where are they from?

Tristan was one of the knights of the round table. It can mean ‘noise’ or ‘boldness’ or ‘sorrow’. Certainly, there are notes of boldness and sorrow in my novels and my teachers always told me I was unnecessarily noisy.

 Where are you based at the moment?

Northern NSW.

You have both written an enviable backlist of books for boys. Could you mention some of these titles? 

My first book in stores was MAC SLATER, COOLHUNTER in 2008. The MY LIFE / TOM WEEKLY series of funny semi-autobiographical short stories has been released from 2012 till now. And I have two crime-mystery novels for late primary / early high-schoolers TWO WOLVES and THE FALL

I really enjoyed your gripping books published this year. Could you tell us about them – Tristan about The Fall and Felice (in the next post) about The Boy and the Spy

THE FALL is inspired by a crime scene I visited doing work experience with a news crew when I was in high school. A man had stolen a woman’s handbag, run through a park, jumped over a fence at the back of the park and didn’t realise that the park was built on top of a multi-storey carpark which was built into the hillside. This and my love of the Hitchcock thriller REAR WINDOW collided to inspire the story.

What genre are they?

THE FALL is a kind of crime, mystery, suspense, thriller. But it’s not just characters servicing plot. I try to write characters that you care about and I want to explore big ideas that are relevant to middle-grade readers. THE FALL touches on mortality, rites of passage for kids and what it means to be a good human and family member, to make good choices.

Where are they set and how did you create the sense of place?

Most of the book is set in a single apartment building over the space of twenty-four hours. I set myself that challenge and it makes the book quite intense. The building is in Sydney, very much like a building a friend of mine lives in, which is only about 100 metres from the crime scene that I visited back when I was sixteen years-old. It’s also influenced by the apartments I stayed in while travelling in England and Europe for four months during the writing of the second draft.

How do you hook readers quickly into your story?

THE FALL begins at 2.08am in a fifth-floor apartment with Sam waking to hear two men arguing in the apartment overhead. Moments later he witnesses a crime. The perpetrator of that crime realises that Sam is the sole witness and comes after him. This sets the drama in motion, with Sam becoming increasingly entwined in the crime as the story progresses.

Books need to start with a bang but, when they do, as an author you need to ensure that the rest of the story lives up to the opening and that the end is even better.

Who are the major characters and why are they in this predicament?

Sam Garner is twelve-going-on-thirteen. He has never met his father before this week. He grew up in the Blue Mountains (not unlike myself) and his father left before he was born. His mother has never wanted him to see his father and his dad hasn’t exactly been breaking his neck to get in touch either. But, after having an operation on his knee (as I did when I was thirteen), Sam’s Mum has to work and she finally allows Sam to go and stay with his father, Harry, a newspaper crime reporter, for a week while he recuperates. On his second-last night, he witnesses the crime.

How is the writing style different from some of your other work?

It’s very different to my younger, funnier illustrated short stories in the Tom Weekly books. There is humour in THE FALL but it’s darker, more thrilling and it explores bigger ideas. It’s more in the vein of TWO WOLVES.

What do you think about each other’s book?

I hate Fleech’s book. Kidding. It’s actually my favourite book he’s written. I really like SPECKY MAGEE but I think ‘THE BOY AND THE SPY’ is another step up. It has a thrilling opening scene but the book isn’t just about action. The characters are rich and believable and it’s told against the backdrop of an important and exciting historical moment. My fourteen year-old son just devoured it a few days ago, too.

These books are both published by Penguin Random House. Do you cross paths because of that? Share editors? Go to meetings together?

We see each other a few times a year at dinners and festivals and when I’m in Melbourne I’ll see if Fleech is around for a catch-up. We have a shared history in that we both started out as TV actors, both lived in the U.K. for a few years. In fact I interviewed Felice when I was presenting a TV series in the U.K. and he was performing in a musical. He is a super-energetic entertainer and we both like the idea of using video and performance to bring books to life for kids.

What other books for boys would you recommend – recent and older?

Hatchet – Gary Paulsen

Runner – Robert Newton

Okay For Now – Gary D Schmidt

Joey Pigza Loses Control – Jack Gantos

Once series – Morris Gleitzman

What are you writing about now or next?

I’ve just finished the next book of short stories in the TOM WEEKLY series and Gus Gordon is illustrating it now. It’s out in 2018 and features stories in which Tom tries to eat a car, his guinea pig is taken hostage, his grandmother involves him in a plot to steal a prize fruitcake, he is attacked by a gang of killer possums and he believes that he and his bum have the potential to save the world.

I’m also writing a new crime-thriller called DETENTION about a kid involved in a school lockdown who comes face-to-face with the threat. I imagine it’ll be out either 2019 or 2020. I like to let the novels breathe so they take a few years to evolve.

What is significant to you about meeting your readers – as individuals or in a large group setting?

It’s a great complement to the writing work. Writing is intensely personal and sometimes lonely. I love going out and trying new stories and ideas on readers. I love visualising the stories and bringing them to life with anecdotes and images and video and music. It’s fun mucking around with ideas, hearing what readers respond to and hopefully inspiring kids to pick up a book or create their own stories.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks Joy. Hi Fleech. Fun chatting to you. And don’t forget to put a book into your child / grandchild / niece or nephew / brother / sister / friend / random kid in the street’s Santa sack this Crimbo. 😉

Thanks Tristan and all the best with The Fall and your other books.

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.