A Telling Future with Cameron Macintosh

Cameron Macintosh is the author of the exciting fantasy adventure series for future detectives in the making, steadily churning them out with number three being recently released. Having qualifications in Psychology and Professional Writing, and specialising in the educational publishing market for almost two decades, it is no wonder Macintosh knows exactly what makes an engaging and perfectly suited read for the junior to middle grade audience. With over 80 books released for the education field under his name, his break into trade publishing has been both rewarding and well-received.

The three Max Booth Future Sleuth books are a fun trip set 400 years into the future, including uncannily relatable characters (a history-buff youngster Max on the run with his robotic, yet loyal dog Oscar). They have demonstrated their keen interest in all things ‘ancient’ and ‘vintage’; sleuthing out the mysteries of objects from the past like a cassette tape in Tape Escape, photos on a mobile phone in Selfie Search, and an old postage stamp from 2019 in Stamp Safari. Macintosh has carefully weaved in suitable language, plenty of humour and suspenseful quests that will hook any tech-loving, sci-fi and mystery-hunting fans, with a clever enticement to finding out about artefacts and technology from the past. Imaginative, creative, the ability to emotionally connect, and so much relevant and important learning potential – the Max Booth series certainly tick all the boxes.

Big Sky Publishing

Cameron Macintosh is back for yet another amazing interview (here’s the last one) to discuss his books and writing life with us once again. 🙂

Coming from a background in writing for the education market, did you have teaching and learning purposes in mind when you started writing the Max Booth series?

Initially, I was trying to avoid any particular educational purpose beyond just getting kids reading – a major educational objective on its own. I just wanted the stories to be page-turners with lots of laughs along the way. But it didn’t take long before I realised they had their own educational potential – not in a didactic way, but in the possibilities they offered for classroom discussions about technology and sustainability, and a range of other issues. The stories deal with future people looking back at objects from our present day, so I figured pretty quickly that they’d offer teachers some interesting angles to discuss technological development, and the positives and negatives that go along with it.

How did you decide what kinds of technological developments to incorporate into the series?

I always intended the series to be episodic, so that any title could be plucked off a shelf and read without any prior knowledge of the characters or their world. I’m glad I chose this option, but it does mean that a little bit of world-building needs to be done in each book. Because of that, I haven’t pushed the technological changes too far, except for a few very big ones that don’t need too much explanation, including hover-vehicles, floating suburbs, robot companions, and the rarity of a few presently common things such as paper.

Who is the series aimed at?

As far as interest level goes, it’s aimed at readers around 7 to 10 years of age. I’ve tried to make the vocab manageable for less confident readers too, so I especially hope the series can be helpful in encouraging these readers to tackle longer texts. The Max Booth books are all around 12,500 words each.

How did you find the gap to write technology / futuristic-based junior fiction?

Before I fully drafted the first Max story, I did some research to see what future-based books were already out there in the marketplace. Although there was plenty of brilliant futuristic stuff, I couldn’t find anything that used the future as a lens to look back at our present day, so I figured I’d potentially found a bit of niche there.

The Max Booth Future Sleuth series makes a great point for readers to connect past and present technology with the possibilities of the future. What are the most significant aspects you’d like your audience to take away from the series?

I’d love readers to think about what a wondrous time we’re living in, with regards to the staggering pace of technological development. I’d also love them to consider the potential pitfalls of this development, in terms of environmental ramifications, and also in terms of the potential that technology holds to bring humanity closer together, or possibly divide us further.

I also really hope the series will spark lots of interesting discussions about technology between kids and their parents, grandparents and teachers – particularly about the way some items or ways of life have evolved over the last few generations, and others have remained pretty much the same. (Although, I don’t recommend describing pre-internet life to a school-aged person unless you want to feel extremely ancient!)

Do you think that setting stories in the future presents any disadvantages to a storyteller?

There’s always the risk of an emotional disconnect with the reader if you let the technological side of things take too much precedence. I’m constantly getting frustrated by sci-fi movies that are so clever and complicated that I lose any real empathy for the characters. And even though you have a lot of freedom in world-building in sci-fi, readers will still expect the world of the story to be believable, and to have its own logical consistency, so there’s a lot of balancing to be done along the way.

The Max Booth series is brilliantly and shrewdly illustrated by the talented Dave Atze. By Book 3, was there anything in particular you needed to collaborate on or did he basically have it all covered?

Dave’s incredible, isn’t he! We’re so lucky to have him on board – to have an illustrator who amplifies the pathos, action and humour is a massive privilege. It’s always very exciting to see how he interprets the illustration briefs, and to see what fun surprises he adds in. Dave had all of this stuff well and truly nailed in the first book (Tape Escape), so by book 3, it was really just a case of keeping out of his way!

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Well, the wheels are currently turning to make Max Booth book 4 a reality. I’ve already seen the cover, which is always a big moment in the journey. As expected, it’s rather brilliant – thanks again to Dave, and the incredible team at Big Sky Publishing.

The TBR pile is getting out of hand but it’s not a bad problem to have! At the top of the pile is Ottilie Coulter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams, and Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan, and Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay (Aussie authors are really knocking it out of the park at the moment). Also, Joyce’s Ulysses has been sitting there for five years daring me to tackle it (I have a feeling it’ll be sitting there at least five more).

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, Cameron! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂

It’s been my great pleasure too. Thanks for such an interesting chat!

Cameron Macintosh can be found at his website, and on blog tour here.

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Interview with Cameron Macintosh – Max Booth Future Sleuth

Cameron Macintosh’s debut children’s fantasy sci-fi series for middle graders, Max Booth Future Sleuth, is a mind-bending, time-warping fun adventure about a boy and his robo-dog sidekick on a mission to uncover the truths about ‘ancient’ artefacts (Are the ‘80s really that ancient?!). The first book to send us looping back and forth between time zones is Tape Escape. Set in 2424, it is a comically suspenseful story that sees Max and Oscar in all sorts of strife, following the theft of the valuable, all-encompassing, legendary David Snowie-archived cassette tape from the hands of a maniacal musicology nutter. Certainly one to goggle over (or google if you’re under 20), for its fascinating reflections into technological history and advancements.

Big Sky Publishing

With a background in editing and writing educational texts, Cameron coolly strode his way into the world of children’s fiction. Thanks for sharing your writing journey and Max Booth insights with us, Cameron!

Firstly, please tell us a bit about your writing journey and how you came to write for children. What’s the best part of this career choice?

My writing journey has been very long and slow, but worth every twist and detour. Like a lot of writers, my journey started as a primary school kid. In my case it was writing rambling rhyming stories that weren’t nearly as clever as I thought they were at the time! I didn’t seriously think writing could be a career option until I enrolled in the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course and found work as an editor out of that – in educational publishing. It took a few years, but I eventually used my contacts as an editor to leapfrog into writing educational texts. I’ve been happily doing that since 2008, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I made the much longed-for leap into mainstream trade publishing when Big Sky Publishing offered to take on the first Max Booth book.

For me, the best part of writing for kids is that it’s a licence to let your imagination run wild, and to revisit ideas that added extra levels of magic to your own childhood. I also get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that, in a small way, I’m part of an incredible community of writers, teachers, librarians and parents who are passionate about encouraging kids to develop a love for reading.

Congratulations on the releases of your latest books in the exciting Max Booth Future Sleuth series, Tape Escape and Selfie Search! What was the experience of writing this series like for you? What themes are at the heart of these stories?

Thank you! It was a very different experience writing each of them. I started the first book, Tape Escape, about four years ago as an attempt to branch out from educational writing. It was three years before the wonderful people at Big Sky offered to take it on, so I’d been living with it for quite a while. That was probably a good thing, because the story had time to find its feet and go through several drafts and workshops with my wonderful writing group.

The second book, Selfie Search, was a very different experience – I’d pitched Max Booth as a potential series, and Big Sky wanted another book to follow it up fairly quickly. I’d already written four or five mini-synopses for future titles, so much of the plot was already in place. And obviously, the characters and world of the story had already been set up in Tape Escape, so it wasn’t too hard to put it together in the space of a few months.

The themes of the books include technology, family, friendship and historical discovery – a strange mix but somehow they seem to work together!

I loved the whirlwind time warp of recollecting the past and imagining the future. Where did the inspiration for these books come from? Were you a hard core sci-fi / fantasy fan as a child? Is there something about time travel that steered you towards this angle? How much research went into plotting accurate facts in technological history?

The initial inspiration came from a visit to Naples and Pompeii, where I encountered all sorts of objects that had survived the devastating eruption nearly 2000 years ago – mostly everyday, domestic items like crockery and hair combs. My fascination for these objects started me wondering whether similarly mundane objects from our own lives would be so interesting to future generations. All I needed was a character with that very fascination (hello Max!) and I was off and running.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t a huge sci-fi or fantasy fan as a kid, apart from Star Wars and Monkey Magic (if they count!), and a few one-off books. But over the last few years I’ve found that speculating about the shape of the world over the coming centuries seems to unleash lots of sparks for story ideas.

In terms of research, the main thing I need to be sure of is that the dates line up correctly for the 20th and 21st century objects Max investigates in each book. I also need to scratch a little deeper for some of the objects because each book ends with a factual spread about the main item Max investigates, giving basic information about its history and how it works.

How have you found the feedback from your readers so far? What have they loved the most about Max Booth? Is this what you had hoped to achieve?

It’s been very encouraging so far. Most importantly for me, they’ve enjoyed the humour, and have liked Max’s robo-dog, Oscar. I’ve also had feedback that readers have liked the future gadgetry, and that parents have found the stories a useful springboard for conversations with their kids about the technologies they grew up with. That’s really pleasing too.

Dave Atze’s illustrations are humorous, energetic and befittingly shrewd. What was it like collaborating with him? Were there any surprises along the way?

You’ve really summed up Dave’s work perfectly. It’s such a treat to work with an artist who has such an intuitive feel for characters and sci-fi settings. His illustrations are really funny too. In terms of the collaboration, I’d included lots of suggestions in the manuscripts. Between Dave, the publisher and myself, we whittled them down to the most important ones, and Dave pretty much took the reigns from there. He nailed the ideas really quickly and we really didn’t need to do a lot of to-and-fro.

The biggest surprise for me was seeing these characters come to life so closely to how I’d imagined them. There was definitely some kind of telepathy going on!

What is your favourite technological device from the past, and what do you think it might be in the future?

My favourite device from the past would have to be my Nintendo Game and Watch game (Popeye!) from the 80s. For the uninitiated, Game and Watch was a series of simple hand-held LED games that were seriously addictive, and are now quite collectible.

My favourite future device will be a scalp-massaging bike helmet – can someone please invent one soon?

What would be your dream time zone for writing be?

It’s not very romantic, but I sometimes wish it was the early 90s again – where we had the benefit of decent word processors without the distraction of the internet! Failing that, an attic in a French castle in the 1880s would be okay too – as long as I can bring a heater and a massage chair.

What projects are you currently working on? What can your fans expect to see from you in the ‘not-too-distant’ future?

I’m currently working hard on the third Max Booth book, and having a lot of fun with it. I won’t say too much about the plot, except that in this one, it’s a very low-tech item that Max is investigating.

There’s also an almost-finished YA novel that I’ll get back to when Max is off the desk, and I’ve recently started plotting a book for adults – I think it’s a crime story, but who knows, it’ll probably end up morphing into sci-fi!

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

Until Andrew Morton writes the biography, the best place to start is probably my website: www.cameronemacintosh.com.au. I’m also on Facebook as ‘Cameron Macintosh, author’ and Twitter @CamMaci99. The Max Booth books are available at www.bigskypublising.com.au.

Thanks so much, Cameron, for discussing your writing journey, past, present and future! 👦🏼 🐶 📼

It’s been a lot of fun, Romi. Thanks a billion for having me!

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