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.

Meet Tristan Bancks, Australian children’s and YA writer

Meet Tristan Bancks, whose latest book is My Life and Other Exploding ChickensMac Slater

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Tristan.

It’s fantastic that one of my favourites of your works, Mac Slater Coolhunter is available again.

Your books have won awards and are also extremely popular. Which of your books or series is most popular and which do you consider your finest achievement? (What awards have you won?)

Two WolvesTwo Wolves and My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up are the biggest sellers, I think. As a complete novel, Two Wolves is the best book I’ve written. It’s the most layered and took me five years to write. In terms of awards it was a CBCA Honour book, won the KOALA and YABBA kids’ choice awards and was nominated for the PM’s Literary Awards, all of which were an extraordinary surprise.

Where are you based and how involved in the children’s and YA literary community are you?

I’m based near Byron Bay but I’m very involved in the community in terms of festivals, good relationships with other authors, publishing folk, librarians and illustrators. The web makes it possible, and kids’ authors have so many opportunities to connect at festivals and events throughout the year. It is a genuinely fine bunch of humans.

What correlation is there between having been an actor and now a children’s book author?

There are quite a few of us – Aaron Blabey, Felice Arena, Judy Nunn and many more. I think it’s useful when writing dialogue and also in terms of imagining yourself into the character’s situation as you write. You need to be able to see and hear and feel and taste and smell the predicament a character is in and render it authentically on the page. An actor’s imagination and improvisation can help with this. Actors learn to play against emotion, too, in order to avoid melodrama. I’m sure that acting helps when bringing the story to life in front of an audience, too.

Do you spend more time writing or in front of an audience?

I spend about four months of the year speaking, seven months writing and a month off (covert writing time when all the best ideas flow).

How have you developed your craft?My Life

A good editor is the best writing mentor. I have learnt so much from great editors. That and maintaining a daily freewriting practice alongside my work-in-progress. I’ve read lots of books on writing to understand structure and process. One of my favourites is John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, a series of letters he wrote to his editor while working on The Grapes of Wrath. It’s such a comforting, intimate insight into the daily meanderings, aspirations and doubts that plague the mind of a writer.

As well as that, you’re a director. Could you tell us about something you’ve directed?

I made a bunch of short films in my mid-20s and then some TV. Learning to analyse scripts and find a personal ‘way in’ to a screen story taught me a lot. The most successful film was Soar about sitting next to the most annoying person in the world on a plane. It was screened at some great fests in the US and Europe and on the Sundance Channel.

Now, I make my video trailers for my books and videos for Room to Read, the literacy charity I’m an ambassador for.

Exploding ChickensTell us about your new book My Life and Other Exploding Chickens. (Do you know any exploding chicken jokes? Do you have any great props?)

Exploding Chickens tells some chilling true short stories from my childhood about an evil dentist, a killer clown and a ninja librarian (who wrought revenge on me for having had Fungus the Bogeyman five years overdue from the public library. [It was a very good book.]). The stories star my alter ego, Tom Weekly, and a regular cast of characters, illustrated by the brilliant Gus Gordon (Herman & Rosie).

I don’t have an exploding chicken joke handy but a kid told me a joke in a school visit yesterday and wrote it on the back of a paper aeroplane for me to put in my next book:

‘Have you seen the movie ‘Constipation’?’

‘No. It hasn’t come out yet.’image5[1]

Could you share your latest book trailer with us? (I was smiling all the way through when I watched it and then laughed out loud at the end.)

Yup. Here it is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnA1nWCpgps

And tell us about the Exploding Chickens competition.

Kids can make their own book video about My Life & Other Exploding Chickens. Top prize for the best video is $500 cash for the filmmaker and $500 worth of books for their school. Click the link in the sidebar at www.tristanbancks.com

What else are you enjoying reading?

ProtectedI recently finished Claire Zorn’s YA novel The Protected which was very good. I’m super-keen to read Robert Hoge’s Ugly and I recently picked up a YA novel called Wolf by Wolf which looks great. I’ve also been re-reading Wonder and listening to David Walliams’ Ratburger as an audio book. 😉 In my writing and reading I drift between serious and funny stuff.

What are some books that are really important to you?

In terms of serious stuff, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe taught me a lot about writing. The Catcher in the Rye and The Road are the two books that have had the greatest emotional impact on me. They knocked me sideways, unable to move after putting the book down. Stephen King’s The Body made a real impression on me as a teenager – a book with a strong spine and high stakes with well-drawn characters and big ideas.

In terms of kid comedy, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, Paul Jennings’ Unreal, Rene Goscinny’s Nicholas and Tim Winton’s The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

What do you dream of achieving or doing in the future?

I just want to write great stories. Stories as powerful and humorous as those above. I want each book to be better than the last – each My Life book to be funnier and more true, each book for older kids to be more honest and brave. Someone once said to me when talking about the many facets of a modern author’s life, from writing to touring to social media, ‘The best thing you can do is write a stunning manuscript.’ I place this quote on the title page of every manuscript now. Ultimately, that’s all that matters. Write a better story than the last. That’s my goal.

Tristan with some other popular authors
Tristan with some other popular authors

Where can people find you on social media?

www.twitter.com/tristanbancks

www.instagram.com/tristanbancksbooks

www.youtube.com/tristanbancks

Thanks very much, Tristan. 

Quality Australian Novels for Children

Figgy in the WorldThe recent CBCA shortlisted Book of the Year for Younger Readers is an impressive list, not least because of the strength of the books that are Notables but didn’t make the shortlist. Younger Readers is traditionally a category of the awards that receives an enormous number of entries and it is thrilling that the quality is so high this year.

Many of the shortlisted books are aimed at upper primary age children, which is the case most years, although The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin) is for much younger readers.Cleo Stories

It is surprisingly difficult to find an outstanding junior novel. Books in series, for example, often cater for the seven to nine year-olds, and picture books and simple chapter books cater for even younger children. Libby Gleeson achieved the feat of creating an excellent junior novel years ago with the brilliant Hannah Plus One (which did become a series). In The Cleo Stories (for even younger readers than Hannah), she acknowledges the situations and feelings of a young girl, firstly when she wants to be like the other girls and then when she needs a present for her mother. The character of Cleo and her concerns reminds me of Anna Branford’s lovely Violet Mackerelone of the titles in the series was a Notable book this year.

BleakboyRealism novels dominate the 2015 short list. Steven Herrick always does an authentic portrayal of relatable primary school kids and the groups they mix in. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain (UQP), about a new boy who is bullied, works well in prose rather than the verse novel form he often uses. It also looks at environmental issues.

The Simple Things by Bill Condon (Allen & Unwin) is about a gentle, immature ten-year-old who has to stay with his formidable great-aunt, Lola. Lola reminds me of Kirsty Murray’s Aunty ‘Big’ in The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie.Simple Things

Ben in Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House) tries to deny the trauma in his life but is forced to confront the troubles caused by his parents and use his own initiative.

Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) is quite different from the other shortlisted books, being set in Ghana. Figgy’s grandmother is ill so Figgy is running away to the United States of America to buy medicine. It gives an excellent insight into another world at an appropriate level for primary-aged Australian children.

Withering-by-Sea: a Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins) is a gothic mystery but the fact that it is the first in the ‘Stella Montgomery Intrigue’, rather than ‘Mystery’ gives an insight into Judith Rossell’s original and quirky style.

Two WolvesSome of the Notable standouts that missed out are Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby, Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster, The Crossing by Catherine Norton and Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke.Withering-by-Sea

Bancks and Bongers

Two authors from the creative arc which encompasses northern NSW and SE Qld have had YA novels published recently.

two wolves

Tristan Bancks’ Two Wolves (Random House Australia) and Christine Bongers’ Intruder (Woolshed Press, Random House) both look at teens who have family problems and are struggling because of their parents and yet are able to work through these issues and strengthen their own characters.

Thirteen-year-old Ben Silver in Two Wolves has parents who are culpable. They have allowed him to grow up spending hours watching screens and to eat so poorly he is overweight. Their business dealings are suspect and the novel begins with Ben and his seven-year-old sister Olive being thrust into their car and on a ‘holiday’. Ben wants to be a detective and he is dubious about what’s going on, especially when he finds a bag of money in the cabin where they are staying.

While keeping the narrative exciting and fast-paced, Bancks poses moral dilemmas and choices which increase the depth and literary worth of the novel. Should Ben be a detective or thief? Should he warn his family when they are at risk? Should he run or surrender? Should he capitulate to the bad wolf of pride, jealousy and greed or follow the good wolf of kindness, hope and truth?

 intruder

Set in a Queenslander (Qld’s quintessential timber house) in Brisbane, Intruder explores a difficult situation where Kat’s musician father must leave her alone at night so that he can work. Her mother has died from cancer and neighbour, Edwina (who Kat seems to despise) looks out for her. Like Two Wolves, Intruder opens with a bang – Kat is awakened by an intruder. Whilst remaining in the same geographical location, this novel embarks on a literary journey as Kat makes friends at the dog-park and untangles and resolves the secrets of her past.

Both books refer to other literature: Kat has her selection of Roald Dahl books Matilda, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach. The protagonists in these books seem to resemble Kat because their parents are either not present or uncaring. Ben’s adventures remind him of Sam Gribley, the protagonist of Jean Craighead-George’s My Side of the Mountainbut he feels inadequate about his survival skills, especially when compared with Sam’s achievements.

In spite of traumatic situations, Ben and Kat make good decisions which will place them positively for the future. They are flawed, realistic but positive role-models for their teen readers.

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

 

5Q Interview with Tristan Bancks, author of Two Wolves

bancks, tristanTristan Bancks is a writer and filmmaker. He has a background as an actor and television presenter in Australia and the UK. His short films have won a number of awards and have screened widely in festivals and on TV. Tristan has written a number of books for kids and teens, including the Mac Slater, Coolhunter series, It’s Yr Life with Tempany Deckert, and My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. Tristan’s drive is to tell inspiring, fast-moving stories for young people.

1. Can you remember the first story you ever wrote and, if so, what was it?

I think it was a rip-off of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which kids could gain all their essential nutrients by eating ice cream flavoured like meat, pumpkin, brocolli etc. When I visit schools now and run workshops with younger grades I notice that kids are still writing that story. I am considering suing several of them because their work is way too close to my version. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

 97808579820322. How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

My first novel Mac Slater, Coolhunter was published but I had written lots of short films, a couple of un-produced feature film screenplays, hundreds of articles and a number of Educational fiction and non-fiction titles prior to having that book published.

 3. What sorts of books do you love to read?

I seem to love page-turning reads with unadorned prose and strong characters that explore an idea. My favourite adult books include Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Jack London’s White Fang. My favourite children’s and middle-grade reads include Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Tim Winton’s The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

 97818647181714. If you were forced to co-write a novel with someone (as we’re not presuming that you’d want to co-write with anyone necessarily) who would it be?

I have co-written a novel, it’s yr life with Tempany Deckert, which really brought the writing process alive for me. I also love collaborating with illustrators. These days, I think I find it difficult to co-write but I would love to collaborate with a Web / Gaming person to build interactive elements into the story as I write.

5. What are you working on now and next?

I am working on my third book of weird-funny-gross short stories in the My Life series and, in the background, I am exploring another darker middle-grade crime-adventure book along the lines of Two Wolves.

Author website: www.tristanbancks.com

Twitter: @tristanbancks