Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are all around us. I read The Age newspaper every morning. There’s an odd spot column that is a great resource for ideas. As an example, two German robbers took their dog on a job with them. When they left the petrol station they were robbing, the owner called “Stop!” While the robbers kept going, the dog obeyed and stopped. The cops picked up the robbers because of the dog’s registration. That now forms part of a story by my partner, Meredith Costain. A woman took her son to a creek one day and it rained. When she tried driving her car back up the slope, the tyres couldn’t get a good grip on the wet ground. She hailed down a passing vehicle, and the driver also got stuck. They hailed a 4-wheel drive and that too got stuck. In the end, they had to phone a tow truck company to get all the vehicles out. I re-wrote that as book called Pit Stop. If you don’t have any stories yourself, your friends probably do. Anecdotal stories are the best.
Who’s your favourite author?
I read a wide variety of books and don’t actually have a favourite. I’ve recently read Matthew Reilly and Philip Pulman. But I’m also reading Geoffrey Blainey’s A Short History of the World.
When did you decide you could write a book?
I never read as a kid, but I did watch heaps of movies. Back then, we only had one channel on TV and the station didn’t come on till the afternoon. However, I started work at Twentieth Century Fox and Metro Goldwyn Meyer. I used to go to premiers, and I even set up a theatrette at home and watched movies there. At the same time I was an apprentice projectionist. Without a doubt I was watching more movies than anyone in New Zealand at that time. Remember, that was way before videos! My only reading material was comics. I used to collect most of the Marvel Group comics in the sixties, like The Hulk, Captain America, and Spiderman. Then one day I decided that I could write a book. Don’t ask me why I thought I could, because like I said, I didn’t read them. I loved westerns, so I bought a heap of cheap western novels and scoured them for ideas. Put together with my knowledge of films, I wrote a western called Hot Lead _ Cold Sweat. Yeah, I know, it sounds (and was) awful. I self published it when I was twenty.
Have you ever had a manuscript rejected?
Heaps, actually. I still get rejections. But the thing is, if the book has any redeeming features whatsoever, someone will want it. Besides, most of the classics of literature have been rejected numerous times before they found a publisher. My own book, The Earthborn, was knocked back by every major (and some not to major) publisher in Australia. It sold to the first major US publisher it was sent to: Tor. They published it in both paperback and hardcover, and bought the sequel, called The Skyborn. Bohemian Ink has published the third in the trilogy, The Hiveborn. I simply don’t give up on manuscripts. Sometimes you’re simply ahead of your time.
How much money do you make?
How long’s a piece of string? I’m an above average wage earner. But I write seven days a week and quite often I work into the night. Then again, I don’t look at writing as work. I enjoy doing it, and so long as people are buying my books, I’ll keep writing.
How long does it take to write a book?
Depends on the length of course. A chapter book can take two to three days if I get on a roll. A 100,000 word novel like Dragonlinks can take up to a year. Then when the editor gets a hold of it, you can add another month or so because editors invariably want you to re-write.
Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction?
I prefer fiction. This comes straight from the imagination. Non fiction has to be precise, and to be honest, I never liked school. Having said that, non fiction is in most cases better paid than fiction.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I have a section on my website which should help aspiring writers.
How many hours do you spend writing every day?
It changes. Most days I might write for an hour, get up and play with the dogs, have a cup of tea, then sit back down half an hour later. Then I might write for only half an hour. If I’m on a roll I’ll keep at it, but most days I get a little distracted all too often. All up, at a rough guess, I only spend a few hours actually typing. Having said that, I might be reading to gather information, or thinking about a certain dilemma I’ve left a character in.
Do you have children? There doesn’t seem enough hours in the day to do all I want to do, much less if I had children! I don’t know how most authors cope with full on writing careers and having a family. I have my dogs who I treat as though they’re human.
Do you have any pets? I have two dogs, a kelpie called Jack and a red heeler called Molly. Then there is the cat, Harriet, five chooks, four goldfish in the pond and a dozen or so in an aquarium.
Were you sporty when you were young? I used to play soccer and cricket when I was a kid. Much later, in my mid-twenties, I took up rugby and martial arts. I have a black belt in both tae kwon do and ju jitsu. I played around with kung fu, karate and kick boxing, too. These days I work out in my home gym with a few friends.
Do you write for a particular audience (ie girls or boys)? The majority of my fan mail comes from girls, although The Jelindel Chronicles are written with boys in mind, too. A lot of my chapter books are written with boys in mind, but it’s hard to tell who exactly reads them. I guess I don’t consciously have a gender in mind when I write.
Out of all your novels, which one do you like best? It’s always the one I’m working on at present. Although if I had to give an answer, I’d say The Earthborn, and perhaps The Wizard’s Torment.
How many books have you published? Somewhere in the vicinity of 150, counting all the chapter books and non-fiction titles.
Have you met any famous authors like J.K. Rowling? I doubt she knows I exist! But I have met most of Australia’s best known Australian children’s authors and illustrators.
What are you working on at the moment? I've just finished writing the last of the six Lucy books in Macmillan's Legends in Their Own Lunchbox series. Next I have a novel called Broken Magic. It can be published as either a novel or as six chapter books coming out one a month over six months. Apart from that, I'm spending a lot of time promoting my other current books, two of which were released in September: The Only Game in the Galaxy (final book in The Maximus Black Files trilogy) and The Beckoning, my first adult horror novel published in the US by Damnation Books.
How old are you? I was born the year Lord of the Rings was published.
Do you get your characters or ideas from real life? Rarely ever. I might take a few characteristics from people, but in the main my characters are made up. I like to think of Sarah from The Earthborn as a Modesty Blaise character, but I doubt my readers would come up with that image. Daretor, from The Jelindel Chronicles is Modesty’s off sider, Willie Garvin.