Double Dipping – Terrific reads for Tweens & Teens

As children shrug off their tween years and enter the tribulation-ridden terrain of teenage hood, the art of telling stories for them becomes more exact and tenuous. Tales still need to entertain yet they must also strike such firm and resounding accord with their intended audience that for readers to abandon them would be like dissing out on themselves or at least, their friends. Two new titles in town, which address each of these age groups with terrific virtuosity flow from the pens of Michael Gerard Bauer and Tamsin Janu and deserve closer scrutiny.

Figgy and the PresidentFiggy and the President is Tamsin Janu’s second book featuring Figgy, a young African village girl with limited world reference but enormous ambition and tenacity. Figgy is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. She and her Ghanaian friends and family are so richly portrayed; it is a delight to be part of their adventures. The characters are complete enough that this tale could take place almost anywhere. That it is set in Ghana is merely an enriching added bonus. As with Figgy in the World, this story is full of warmth and originality.

Figgy in the WorldIn this current snap shot of Figgy’s life, she and her best friend, Nana dream about their future careers, speculating on their successes and mapping out the paths for their chosen occupations. Trouble is deciding on a career is not as straightforward as Figgy imagines so when she unexpectedly lands a role as an actress in a locally made film, she immediately fancies this might be the future for her.

However just as she embarks on her newfound career, Figgy’s erstwhile absent, now heavily pregnant mama appears throwing Figgy into even more confusion and uncertainty. Figgy is then forced to abandon her own misgivings when Nana is mercilessly ripped out of their lives causing her to attempt to rescue him.

Figgy and the President is a superb story of tenacity, childhood resourcefulness, and friendship that mid primary readers will cherish. It reads with an innocent fluidity that I imagine tween-aged children influenced and shaped by our (often-trivial) First World dilemmas will find entertaining and fascinating, thereby giving rise to a stronger sense of empathy and humanity. A perfect follow up to Figgy in the World but able to be read alone.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

It’s no secret that many of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books leave me quaking at the knees, usually with laughter and emotion. Surprisingly, this one is not at the top of my favourites list of his but I have a feeling it will be a hit among gaggles of school guys and gals nonetheless.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and MeThe Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a new YA comedy that I initially found cloying (a bit like attempting to swallow a whole clotted-cream-and-jam-smothered-scone in one go) – not just because the title is so mouth-filling but partly due to the rabid use of capital letter actualisation and metaphoric description; this coming from someone with a pathological obsession to metaphoric-ise practically everything (see afore mentioned scone and cream example).  Nevertheless, like my predilection for scones and clotted cream, I could not give it up either. Discomfort is often  born from self -realisation, and whilst the way Maggie Butt thinks and reacts is a painful reminder of my own metaphoric inadequacies, figuratively speaking (and she does this a lot) her behaviour brilliantly mirrors the  psyches of many a teenager  whom I am certain will find this an outrageous and comforting connection.

‘Me’ is Maggie Butt and her teenage life is messy and mucked-up. Every time she gets close to achieving one of her ‘Three Specific and Realistic (life) Goals’ they are lampooned out of the water. There’s a drama queen quality about Maggie I found slightly unnerving at first however Bauer’s injection of sweet satire and ability to weave a generous amount of heart and soul into his storylines saved not only me, but eventually also Maggie and a few others besides.

Michael G BauerBauer seems well accustomed with the fickle affections and feelings of pre-adult youth having raised a couple, taught dozens more and presumably been one himself portraying Maggie and her school mates with a raw sincerity I found touching . His 15-year-old female voice rings alarmingly loud and true, at times almost too convincingly so it is a relief when we are eventually shown Maggie’s true emotional turmoil, her warring desires, and not-to-much-to-ask-for expectations. Sir Tiffy, Sista Lista and a dude on a motor bike all help us (and Maggie) see what really truly matters whilst completing an intricate tapestry (stolen metaphor) of characters and satellite storylines.

In true Bauer style, The Pain…is more than it initially appears. It is wry and cool. It is funny and sensitive. It is a glorious collection of intelligent and side-splitting word play. It is unquestionably a riotous encounter of the teenage kind which connects solidly with today’s reader and transports older ones (like this one) back to nights with Paul Young (figuratively speaking), controversial casual-ware (see the T-shirt incident pg. 146) and thankfully possesses an ending that I’d cross  an ocean of metaphors to experience again.

Witty, relevant, and snappy, this junior novel will appeal in spades to younger YAers, as well.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

A beauty – Rich and Rare

RIch and Rare cover Med ResThere really is something for everyone in Ford Street Publishing’s latest collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork for teens – Rich and Rare. With pieces from almost 50 fab authors and illustrators, including Shaun Tan, Judith Rossell, Susanne Gervay, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath and Michael Gerard Bauer (to mention a few), the anthology delivers tantalizing morsels to suit every reading taste. There’s an alien invasion, a Dickensian-style thriller, a warrior adventure in old Japan, a bushranger tale, intrigue in the cane fields of northern Queensland and much, much more.

Editor Paul Collins joins me ahead of next month’s book launch to take us inside Rich and Rare and to reflect on his own prolific and successful career as a writer, editor and publisher. Paul is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles which include The Jelindel ChroniclesThe Quentaris Chronicles ─ co-edited with Michael Pryor, and The Warlock’s Child, done in collaboration with Sean McMullen. He also runs Ford Street Publishing and the Creative Net Speakers’ Agency.

JF: Congratulations, on Rich and Rare, Paul. What a line-up of Australian talent! What can readers expect from this collection?

PC: I’d like to think a sumptuous literary feast. No one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.

JF: How does it compare to others anthologies you’ve edited?

PC: Anthologies aren’t as easy to put together as they might seem. An editor starts off with a list of potential contributors. I’ve been lucky in as much that most of my list this time around contributed illustrations, stories or poems. Across the three anthologies I’ve edited lately, I think everyone I’ve approached is represented. But not one of the collections has everyone. So too people reading Rich and Rare will be happy to see some contributors lacking in the other anthologies, but on the reverse mystified that others are missing. This collection is more illustrative and has longer and more varied works. This will please some, and perhaps disappoint others. So in answer to your question, it’s very subjective. A creator’s latest work is always their “best” work.

JF: What are the challenges of editing such a large collection of stories, poems and artwork?

PAUL-COLLINS-PC: Most contributors aren’t precious about their stories being edited. Those who are can be difficult. Working with up to fifty creatives can be challenging – remembering of course I’m working with many others at the same time. And because an editor says a story should follow this or that path, doesn’t necessarily mean the editor is right. It can be subjective. Stories especially vary in quality, and it’s the editor’s job to get some rough stones and polish them to gem standard. Hopefully, and with the help of several others here at Ford Street, I’ve managed to do this.

JF: You’re a writer, editor and publisher – how do you fit it all in? 

PC: I think I’ve edited around a dozen anthologies. This doesn’t include 45 collections Meredith Costain and I edited for Pearson (Spinouts and Thrillogies). I’ve published around 100 + books over the years, and written around 150. Running Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and the seminars/festivals does keep me busy!

JF: What are you currently working on? 

PC: Right now I have three plays and two short story collections (the latter in collaboration with Meredith Costain) coming out from other publishers. This year I published around 16 books. I have my first 2016 title, Dance, Bilby, Dance, by Tricia Oktober, ready to go to the printer.

JF: How did you get started as a writer and what led you to publishing?

PC: I self-published my first novel at the age of nineteen. Realising it wasn’t good enough, I figured I’d move into publishing other people’s work. I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels in the early 80s. I also published science fiction books. Losing distribution I returned to writing. My first book was published by HarperCollins in 1995.

JF: You’re best known for your fantasy and science fiction writing – what appeals about those genres?

PC: They’re as far away from contemporary as you can get. I think we live the lives of those people we read in contemporary novels, so why read about them? I can’t imagine why people watch TV shows like East Enders and Coronation Street, or the spate of reality TV shows. Big Brother for example must have been one of the most boring shows anyone could watch. And that’s what I feel about contemporary fiction.

JF: Does your personal passion affect your publishing decisions?

PC: No. I have published contemporary fiction, for example. I don’t just stick to fantasy and science fiction. If I think something has quality and there’s a market for it, I have to make a commercial decision.

JF: What do you wish you’d known when you started?

PC: The massive database I’ve built up over the years, contacts with book clubs and others who buy bulk books. Basically, knowledge that you need to be successful. Alas, unless someone sits down and gives you a list, you need to find all this stuff out yourself. And that takes years.

JF: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

PC: Persistence is the key. The Wizard’s Torment was my first book – that’s the one that sold to HarperCollins. I had written it in the early 80s. It took me around twelve years to get it published. I wrote another book at the same time called The Earthborn. That was rejected by just about every publisher in Australia. An agent sent it to TOR in the US and sold sold the trilogy over there. I mentally thanked every Australian publisher that had rejected it. Just never give up.

JF: Thanks Paul, and good luck with Rich and Rare!

PC: Thanks, Julie.

Paul Collins has edited many anthologies including Trust Me!, Metaworlds and Australia’s first fantasy anthology, Dream Weavers. He also edited The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian SF&F. Paul has been short-listed for many awards and has won the Inaugural Peter McNamara and the A Bertram Chandler awards, both of which were for lifetime achievement in science fiction, and the Aurealis and William Atheling awards. His book, Slaves of Quentaris, features in 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Die (UK, 2009).

Paul Collins website.

Ford Street Publishing website. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults. Her latest short story – Sugar is Sweet is in Rich and Rare.  

 

Double Dipping – Comic Strip Comedies

Derek Danger Dale Secret AgentJunior book series – do they sell? Often it is a question of semantics. Do kids love them? That answer is a no-brainer and when they are as first-rate as these are, it’s no wonder why.

Michael Gerard BauerHot on the heels of the sensationally popular Eric Vale series by Michael Gerard Bauer is Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale The Case of Animals Behaving Really, REALLY Badly. It’s hard to imagine a storyline more epic than its 13-word title, but Bauer manages it with trademark, laugh-out-loud lunacy.

Derek Dale spins straight off the pages of Eric Vale’s journal, springing from imagination into real life with the fearless and somewhat increDerek Danger Dale imagedulous abandon of a male pray mantis looking for love. He is swarthy and buff, with a Dr. Chris Brown jawline that makes your eyes water. And he’s the worst hope Secret Agents R Definitely NOT Us has of defeating the vile genius of evil Doctor Evil MacEvilness. Doc Evil is on a mission to abscond with the world’s biggest diamond by duping the four most deadly animals on the planet into servitude. Can Derek Dale bumble his shirtless way through their attempts to destroy him and outwit MacEvilness while maintaining his secret-agentness and remaining in his boss’s good books? You’ll have to laugh your way through this tongue-in-cheek high-energy spoof to find out.

Bauer, along with his talented son, Joe Bauer’s cartoon-strip-esque illustrations, elevate Eric Vale’s imagined adventurer into riotous superhero status. Secret Agent Derek Dale dispenses with the emotional depth of Eric Vale, being more suited to the younger siblings of readers of the first series but still delivers the laughs and packs plenty of goofball punches. Move over Captain Underpants, there’s a new hero in town, who really, REALLY needs a shorter name.

WeirDo 2Speaking of shorter names, spare a thought for Weir, Weir Do. WeirdDo 2 Even Weirder! is Book 2 in a zany new series for 6 – 8 year-olds by award winning author and hilarious stand-up comic, Anh Do (as in rhymes with go – getting it now?).

Illustrated by Jules Faber, WeirDo 2 follows the popular format of heavily illustrated cartoon-like, side-splittingly humorous novels that cause kids to smash open their piggy banks.

Anh Do

Weir is the product of a weird family. His mum is cheap, his sister is borderline obsessive compulsive, his little brother, Roger chucks everything into the bath, and his dad has an uncanny way of drawing out his bodily emissions. It’s all pretty straightforward bizarreness until Weir gets hung up on the seventh best-looking girl in school, Bella. He is keen to impress her the best way he knows how, with one of his drawings.

He thinks he’s in with a chance when she invites him to her birthday party but things turn typically weird starting with a severe case of the ‘finkles’. How Weir and his family turn disaster into divinely good fun makes for one of the most wacky, comical reads I’ve had for a while. WeirdDo 2, Even Weirder! is a rib tickling and surprisingly tender look at today’s social diversity, family make-up, and how little kids with unfortunate names fit into the mix. Plus it has a snazzy animated motion cover too. Ripper!

Both books available now here.

Scholastic Australia 2014

 

Reviews – Ripping Mid-Grade Reads Two Wolves & Little Chef, BIG Curse

Mid-grade readers, tween fiction, early YA; call themLittle Chef Big Curse what you will, but books for 8 -13 year-olds must satisfy vital criteria. They require substance, humour be it belly-busting or cloaked as parody, and a completely honest rendering of imagination, no matter how fantastical the premise. Little Chef, BIG Curse and Two Wolves fulfil on all counts. Both are heftier reads for mid to upper primary aged kids (in excess of 200 pages). And ones I could have gleefully gobbled up again immediately I reached the end.

 Little Chef, BIG Curse is the debut work of Tilney Cotton and possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish.

It’s an off-beat taTilney Cottonle about hapless 11 year-old, Matty Swink who dreams of being a famous chef. He is practically enslaved by the foul-tempered, mean-spirited Fenella as her live-in dishwasher. With no means, family or support, Matty’s future seems confined to sleeping under the sink in Fenella’s diner. But dreams as big as Matty’s cannot be suppressed forever and when the King of Yurp announces a grand Cook-Off and the chance to break a 500 year-old curse on his only daughter, Matty finally forges his way to fame and freedom.

This is a zinger of a tale tickling with intrigue, bubbling with soul and simmering with an underlying sinisterness that kids will find electrifying. Cotton’s brilliant mix of colourful characterisation and original one-liners like, ‘roll with pumpkins’ produces a story that is full of punch, flavour and fun. Peppered with a generous helping of comical metaphors (‘breath like dog poo’ is a favourite), sprinkled with danger and seasoned with revenge, Little Chef, BIG Curse has all the humorous and gross ingredients of a Morris Gleitzman adventure and some. Top notch nosh! That gets 10 out of 10 from me.Tristan Bancks RH

Scholastic Press February 2014

Tristan Bancks’ junior adventure books including the My Life, Nit Boy, Mac Slater Cool Hunter and the Galactic Adventures series rival those of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Michael Gerard Bauer. Like kids 8 – 13 years-old, I can’t get enough of his quirky, comedy-loaded, layback style. Two Wolves however is a decisive departure from previous offerings aimed at the slightly older reader, demonstrating more drama, stronger conflicts and more thought-provoking themes. It blew my breath away.

Using the Cherokee Indian allegory that we all have good and bad (wolves) dwelling within us as the catalyst for conflict, Two Wolves explores moral dilemmas, innocence versus experience and family blood being thicker than water. Which wolf ultimately wins the internal battle depends on which one we feed, as thirteen year-old Ben Silver discovers.

Ben aspires to be a detective but naively lives in a world of limited resources and shaky real-life experience. He re-lives much of his life through the lens of an internal camera, ‘playing on the cinema screen at the back of his eyelids’.

This movie-making processing of events allows him to deal reflectively and safely with some pretty confronting issues, the most recent being the inexplicable, unplanned retreat into wildness with his parents.

Life on the run with them and his young sister, Olive, soon deteriorates into a painful battle of survival and family ethics. Ben is desperate to figure out what his parents are fleeing from and why but is uncertain of what to do with the truths he may uncover.

Ben’s most daunting concerns, apart from remaining alive with Olive, are the choices he is confronted with; right vs. wrong, family loyalty vs. honourable action. How Ben decides to end his movie makes for a gripping novel heaving with adventure and mystery.

Bancks’ delivery of Two Wolves is tight and crisp. Fragmented internal thought and observation are favoured over rambling descriptive narrative which keeps the reader firmly in Ben’s moments of extreme agitation. Ben is a believable hero. His naïve, almost tongue-in-cheek humour works beautifully against the darker aspects of this story resulting in a novel tweens can and will relate to even if they have never been in Ben’s situation.

Can money buy happiness? What scruples do you possess when it comes to family, or having to confess to a crime? Does deceit ever pay dividends? Two Wolves is destined to keep kids pondering over questions like these for months. Sensational stuff.

Random House Australia March 2014

 

Review – Eric Vale Epic Fail – Stocking stuffer suggestion

Kids aren’t always especially nice to each other. From the most tender of ages they are on the lookout for ways to demoralise, break-down and lord it over each other. It’s all part of your basic survival of the fittest mentality and the procurement of stupid nicknames is one small but powerful weapon in this on-going battle for supremacy.

Now, I’m of Asian descent with a skin type that deepens to ‘kalamata olive’ with repetitive sun exposure. My name is Dimity, habitually shortened to Dim. Put all three together as some enterprising class mates of mine did and you’ve got yourself a ‘burnt Dim Sim’. That little gem must have completely depleted their collective mental arsenal.

Eric Vale Epic FailMichael Gerard Bauer’s comic romp, Eric Vale Epic Fail, illustrates one kid’s classic demise, the misappropriation of a really stupid (but undeniably funny) nickname and his subsequent attempts to rid himself of it. This book did unintentionally throw me back amongst the dim sims but in a sinfully hilarious way.

Eric Vale is your normal Year Five kid who in spite of drifting off in class whenever his ‘brain goes on a hike’ which is quite a bit, manages to distil most of his creativity and genius into his action adventure stories.

He has an overactive imagination, a best mate whose idea of a bad day simply doesn’t exist, and a nemesis in the shape of one Martin Fassenbender; perfect components for a knock-me-down, tie-me-up and rescue-me-before-the-train-hits adventure. The kind of adventure in fact, that Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale encounters on an hourly basis.

Michael G Bauer Bauer deftly manoeuvres Eric through a series of epic fails with hilarious alacrity and style. Unlike the poetically funny tomato sauce incident, readers are not slathered with a thick morass of morals. Ethnicity, individualism, fitting in and good old fashioned mateship are all treated with a robust finesse but told with that in-your-face jocularity that midgrade readers find so addictive.

I really feel for Eric Fail – er Vale. Who wouldn’t? He’s the dreamer, the schemer and ultimately tenacious enough to score on many levels. And he represents at least fifty per cent of kids in the school yard with ludericous labels, like Dim Sim. But I love his best mate Chewy more. You could practically drown in Chewy’s irrepressible buoyancy. His glass is never just half full, it’s overflowing.

Joe Bauer illoIt took me a few pages to adjust to the relaxed layout and jaunty comic book style of Eric Vale Epic Fail, but Joe Bauer’s zany illustrations eased my transition into the graphic style chapter book (Grapter if you like) superbly. Outrageously daring and 100% reflective of his father’s humour, Joe’s talent is as delightfully deadly as a Big Bob head squeeze.

‘If you think you can, you WILL’ enjoy this epic read. Any 10 year olds undoubtedly will. And the best bit: Eric Vale lives on in two more books in this series, Eric Vale Super Male released April 2013 and Eric Vale Off the Rails released August 2013.Eric Vale OtR Eric Vale SM

And if that wasn’t enough, stay tuned for the spin off series featuring your favourite secret agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale. Destined to be another epic win.

Scholastic Australia November 2012

Stock up for Christmas with all of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books here.

 

 

On My Bedside Table

Bedside read listWant to know who I like to curl up in bed with after a long day behind the flat screen? Curious to know how I spend the midnight hours? Well I can reveal that at least three of those listed below are amongst the many who keep me occupied into the wee hours of the night. But enough about the books weighing down my bedside table.

As a solution to my incurable curiosity about what  makes a good read and what is good to read, I will be featuring who and what some of Australia’s most popular authors and illustrators like to go to sleep with, or bathe with or dine with…you get the picture.

And so to kick off our inaugural On My Bedside Table post we begin with a clutch of very clever children’s authors and illustrators. Look carefully and you may just pick up an idea or two for your own reading list. Enjoy!

Susanne Gervay ~ Children’s and YA award winning author and patron, director and co-ordinator of numerous societies associated with Kids’ Lit.

Conspiracy 365 (series) by Gabrielle Lord

Hey Baby! Corinne Fenton (picture book)

Trust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (anthology of stories)

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Terry Denton

Lighthorse Boy by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Ten Tiny Things by Meg mcKinlay illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Gracie and Josh• I have a pile of picture books and illustrated stories at the moment. Maybe because I’m into picture books – of course there’s my Gracie and Josh illustrated by Serena Geddes there too.

Anil Tortop ~ Illustrator, designer and sometimes animator

• The second book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (via Kindle)

• SCBWI bulletin

• Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy

• Downloaded picture books (on my iPad to have a look at very often. But I don’t read all of them. Just look at the pictures…)

Maggot MoonMichael Gerard Bauer ~ Children and YA multi CBCA award winning author

Just last night I finished reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. A powerful, moving book that I really liked. It’s set in what appears to be England but the country is under a vicious totalitarian rule as if it had lost WW2. The story centres around a young boy called Standish Treadwell and the horror of his life, and eventually his attempt to expose a fake moon landing which is about to be broadcast by the government as an example of their power.

I’m also at present re-reading Barry Heard’s book Well Done Those Men about his Vietnam experience and the terrible effect it had on his life. A great read and soon to be a movie.

Anna Branford ~ Writer for children, maker of things and bath tub reader

There is a funny selection on my bedside table just now! Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is there because I’ve been recovering from a cold and it is always my best companion when I’m not feeling well.

The AntidoteOn top of that is a book by the hilarious and wise Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote, which is a wonderful critique of the practice of positive thinking.

And right at the top of the pile is Sue Whiting’s new book, Portraits of Celina, which is spooky and beautiful all in the same moment.

On my Bedside table Anna BranfordFeeling inspired yet? I am. Time to grab whatever is on the top of your pile and curl up together.

 

 

Interview – CBCA Shortlisted Author Michael Gerard Bauer

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!

Ok, seriously?

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 michaelgerardbauer@wordpress.com 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.

 

HOLIDAY READING – JUST a DOG

I know that saving the best till last is a cliche, but I have saved one of my favourite children’s books for 2010 to be my final Kid’s Book Capers review for the year.

Just a Dog is the new junior novel from award-winning author, Michael Gerard Bauer. It’s a moving story about family, but mostly it’s a story about a boy and his dog.

Mr Mosely in Just a Dog could have been the labrador I grew up with; a voracious eater who collected the neighbour’s newspapers and delivered them to us and was hit by a car but recovered to live to a good age.

Growing up with a loyal canine friend is an experience common to many kids and I think that’s one of the most powerful things about this book. The storyline is fairly straightforward but the telling of the tale is far from ordinary.

Just a Dog is full of Michael Gerard Bauer’s  great humour and it’s these lighter moments that make the serious ones so much more dramatic and intense. The story is told from the point of view of ten-year old Corey, with a child’s matter-of-fact perceptiveness and optimism.

I think the reason why Mister Mosely didn’t stay little for long was because he ate so much…All I know is, Moe grew up faster than me. I used to tie ropes to his collar and sit in a cardboard box and he could drag me across the grass no trouble at all.

Corey’s family is going through a difficult time. Dad has lost his job, money is tight and there’s a new little sister on the way. In spite of all the tension around, Mr Mosely somehow manages to keep the balance in the family.

He’s not a pedigreed dog but he is just what this family needs – someone who offers unconditional love – who shows loyal devotion no matter what – someone who holds them all together.

Each chapter of Just a Dog is a new Mosely episode, but they all blend together seamlessly to tell the story of Corey, his family and their dog. Each chapter has a beginning, middle and end so it can be read by or to a child in one sitting. Each chapter finishes with a page-turner that makes the reader want to know what Mosely will do next.

Throughout the story, we also see the development of Corey who learns so much through living with and loving Mr Mosely. One of the other endearing qualities about this book is that it shows kids that it’s okay to express your emotions – to show love, fear and sadness.

This book will resonate with anyone who has experienced the joys and sorrows of owning a pet.

Just a Dog is for aged 10+ but will also be enjoyed by some younger readers.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – “MATES” GREAT AUSTRALIAN YARNS FOR KIDS

Every book I have read in the The Mates series (published by Omnibus) has been full of great characters and humour and the two books I’m talking about today are no exception.

These uniquely Australian stories celebrate what it is to be Australian – our history, our inventiveness and unique perspectives on life. And these books are humorously illustrated in full colour.

YOU TURKEYS

Written by Michael Gerard Bauer

Illustrated by Nahum Ziersch

You Turkeys was always going to be a favourite with me. Not only is it written by Michael Gerard Bauer whose writing I greatly admire, but I am probably the only person in Australia who has a fascination for Scrub Turkeys.

Jake’s Dad’s garden is his pride and joy so when the scrub turkeys move in and turn it into a mess, pecking at the tulips and spreading the chip bark with their sharp claws.

Dad has a five point plan to get rid of them and Jake is his enthusiastic assistant. But when scarecrows, pepper and chicken wire fail to work, he has to rethink the whole situation.

Apart from the great characters and humour in You Turkeys, I loved the resolution to this story and I’m sure that young readers will too.

BARNESY

Written by Allayne Webster

Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Hannaford’s family loves naming things, even the lawnmower! The new baby lamb needs a name, and it’s Hannaford’s turn to choose…

There’s something appealing about a book that starts by introducing Victor the Evil lawnmower. And growing up in a household with cars called Snortsy and Soames, I could really relate to a family that names everything.

But so far, Hannaford (named after Alfred Hannaford) hasn’t had a chance to name anything. So when a new baby lamb arrives at the farm, this could be his chance. But first he must find a way to help the lamb’s injured mother to walk again.

Barnesy is full of great characters like Sir Robert Helpmann the thieving wombat who danced out of the way of an oncoming car and Stumpy, the cockatoo.

It’s another hilarious read in the Omnibus “Mates” series.

The “Mates” books are for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels, but the humour and colour of will be enjoyed by kids of all ages and reading levels.