Q&A with Nick Earls

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My first Nick Earls read was ’48 Shades of Brown’ when it was shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year awards in 2000. I hadn’t laughed so much reading a novel for a long time and I was instantly hooked. I soon learned that Nick Earls had published some novels for adults and was on a mission.  Oh my……talk about laughter being the best medicine!  I have just reviewed Nick’s new novel for adults ‘Analogue Men: a novel’ and without doubt, the humour just gets crisper and never, ever disappoints.

I have had the great good fortune to hear Nick speak and converse with him on several occasions and trust me, his lively wit is not confined to his written words.

 

Nick Earls is the author of novels including The FixZigzag StreetBachelor Kisses, The True Story of Butterfish and Perfect Skin and the collection of short storiesWelcome To Normal. His work has been published internationally in English and in translation. Zigzag Street won a Betty Trask Award in the UK in 1998, and Perfect Skin was the only novel nominated for an Australian Comedy Award in 2003. 48 Shades of Brown was awarded Book of the Year (older readers) by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2000, and in the US it was a Kirkus Reviews selection in its books of the year for 2004. 48 Shades of Brown and Perfect Skin have been adapted into feature films, with Solo un Padre, the film adapted from the Italian edition of Perfect Skin, a top-ten box office hit in Italy in 2008. After January48 Shades of BrownZigzag Street and Perfect Skin have all been successfully adapted for theatre, and the Zigzag Street play toured nationally in 2005. The True Story Of Butterfish was also performed as a play. He recently published a collection of stories Welcome To Normal.

Courtesy Random House Australia

Earls, Nick - credit Sarah Garvey

Credit: Sarah Garvey

It gives me the greatest pleasure to have this blog interview with Nick Earls and I do hope you enjoy it as well.

Nick Earls, welcome to Just So Stories!

 

1.    Nick, I know you were born in Ireland and came to Australia aged around 9 – and I certainly wouldn’t hold that against you. In fact, it’s possibly why you have a gift for telling a good story. Perhaps you might tell us a little about your early life?

It was a strange mixture – an idyllic rural upbringing in a place affected by sectarian violence. We had pigs and were surrounded by fields of barley and potatoes, but if we went into the bigger towns we were stopped and searched at military road blocks. My first thought about Brisbane was that it wasn’t safe, since it didn’t have the army on its streets.

2.    I think most people know that you trained and practised as a GP (although I still struggle at times to imagine you as the family doctor!). How did the metamorphism from jovial GP to hilarious author come about?

Slowly. Writing looked like a precarious career choice, so I had close to ten years of part-time medicine and part-time writing. In 1998, I had book tours to do in two countries and the writing took over.

3.    When did you first think you might be more successful as an author than you were as a doctor (trick question, be careful how you answer!) ;-)?

They’re apples and oranges. The difference was I liked medicine and I love writing. It’s something I want to do forever. So, even if success in the two somehow could be compared, that wasn’t really the question I was asking. Does that sound appropriately evasive?

4.    Your novels revolve around Brisbane – obviously something which resonates with those of us who also live here. Why do you choose to focus on Brisbane and what is it about Brisbane life that you most enjoy?

I resisted it at first, since very few people seemed to be writing novels about contemporary Brisbane. In the end, stories have to happen somewhere, and my kinds of stories have to happen somewhere real. So, having failed at faking my way into writing about other places, I let Brisbane in. It turned out that that allowed me to draw on its details, and at the same time direct my creative work to characters and story. It turns out that, if you write about people, people anywhere can read it, even if you’ve set your stories in a specific place.

5.    You first came to my attention when as a teacher-librarian, I picked up ’48 Shades of Brown’ the year it was short-listed as CBC Book of the Year – Older Readers. Can you tell us about the book’s genesis?

I’d written After January, and thought I might write something set at the start of year 12. I decided I wanted to write about a character pushed out of his comfort zone. Sending Dan’s parents out of the country and him to Jacq’s place seemed like a good start. I was working in medical editing at the time and edited an article on OCD. I decided to give Dan some obsessionality, but not make too much of it. Then I started thinking, ‘Who’s the third housemate, and what can I get out of them?’ The rest came from there.

6.    After I read ’48 Shades of Brown’ I happened to next a) pick up a copy of ‘Bachelor Kisses’ b) have the extreme good fortune to hear your guest talk at a Boys & Reading gig in Brisbane. We had some discussion about the more risqué moments in that novel, throughout which I had laughed uproariously. Then last year we had another conversation about the Word Hunters series. Clearly your gift for writing transfers across adult, young adult and children’s fiction. Is one or the other more appealing to you? What inspires you to write any given story?

If I’m excited about the story, I’m happy to write it, and along the way work out who the readership might be. With Word Hunters, I loved the research and planning most. When it comes to the writing, the thing I probably enjoy most right now is writing shorter fiction for adults. The commerciality of that choice is debatable though. I loved writing Welcome to Normal in 2010-2011.

7.    How do your characters develop – because they are all quite distinctive? Are they all purely fictional or do you slyly pick up aspects from real life?

I want them to feel real so, if the real world offers me something, I don’t ignore it. I don’t just drop it into the story though. I try to work out what it is I’ve responded to and come up with something fictional that’ll have the same effect. If it’s happened to me, it can go straight in. I think one of the keys is taking time to let characters develop, working out who they are and how they speak, and what they’re going to bring to the story. For me, that happens before the writing.

8.    As far as the process of writing, what is your favoured approach? What does your work day and work space look like?

I’m a big planner. By the time I sit down to write a novel, it’s a 20,000 word outline. Then I sit there writing the novel into the outline. From the first idea to day one of writing is usually a few years. The first draft takes place over a few months and, when I’m doing that, it’s just about all the work I do.

9.    Which authors, genres or characters have resonance with you personally?

Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box showed me an internal voice that felt compellingly real, and like eavesdropping on someone’s thoughts. Richard Ford showed me how to meticulously weigh up details to work out which deliver the story in the most powerful and invisible way.

10.  What advice would you give would-be writers?

Read. Think. Even when you don’t have writing time, you’ll often have thinking time. Make notes when you’re thinking. And don’t get too frustrated. The thinking is writing, as much as the typing part is.

11.  Of which of your books or achievements are you proudest and why?

It’s not something my books tend to make me feel. If there’s one thing, it’s taking on a major role in anthologies that raised $3million for War Child. It doesn’t occur to me to feel pride about the books, since writing them is at heart a self-indulgent act. I’m very lucky to do a job that works that way.

12.  What are you currently reading?

I’m a few pages into The Promise by Tony Birch.

13.  What is next for Nick Earls?

Some novellas, I hope. And perhaps a TV series. And I’m working on a children’s book for next year.

14.  What is the worst thing about being a successful author?

The possibility of becoming an unsuccessful author all too easily.

15.  What would you like your epitaph to be?

I’ve got over a million words in print. It’s my great relief that that’s one line I can leave to other people.

 

Nick Earls, it has been such a pleasure and I thank you for your time!

thanks

Analogue men: a novel – Nick Earls

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Analogue men: a novel – Nick Earls

Random House Australia

ISBN: 9781864711523

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Vintage Australia

Extent: 368 pages

Analogue Men, Nick Earls

“Do you ever feel like you might have just one more chance to get on top of your life and make things happen?”

Andrew Van Fleet has been a long-distance husband, father and son for some years as he flitted from one location to another trouble-shooting for his huge company (BDK) – turning around corporate disasters, salvaging failing business empires and moderating company debt levels – sort of like a corporate Superman really.  As he nudges his 50th birthday, he realises it’s time to relinquish the demands of his position and reconnect with his home and family by taking a step down to manage BDK’s Brisbane radio station and restore it to its former glory.

After all he has the right pedigree, his dad having been one of Brisbane’s top radio announcers in times past and growing up surrounded by music and records. Dad, Casey, now resides in the family home’s granny flat following bowel surgery and his wife’s death, along with a rather unattractive bulldog named Winston.

Andrew’s wife Robyn, all medical efficiency epitomised, is pleased to have her husband home – if only because he’s the one who can make the best coffee in the coffee machine. Their twins Abi and Jack are routinely self-obsessed with the usual teen pursuits and pretty much distant from a father who hasn’t been around much.

Andrew faces not only the challenge of becoming the radio station’s general manager, with no real knowledge of the industry, but finds he is surrounded by the digital age which seems to have passed him by. Wife, kids and even father, not to mention all and sundry at the radio station seem to be permanently glued to their iPads and other devices. Andrew on the other hand is so technologically dyslexic that he can’t even manage his new mobile phone.

His other nemesis is trying to tame the radio station’s leading star – a fading middle-aged announcer, Brian Brightman, who styles himself as the epitome of ‘shock rock jock’ and is openly scathing of both Andrew’s arrival and moral issues in general.

Within this framework Nick Earls takes the reader on a hilarious road trip through Andrew’s journey to establish himself into his ‘new normal’ as he fumbles his way through family relationships, becoming the bad new boss of radio and finding his own place as the dreaded 50 looms nearer.

One cannot help becoming engaged with Andrew as he struggles with his return to suburbia and ‘real life’. His awkwardness with almost any situation is endearing and resonant. All who have raised teenagers recognise the anxieties he has around his children, all who have found that after a length of time – and distance – intimate relationships blur around the edges and all who have aging parents who need both support and understanding will immediately identify with Andrew’s dilemmas. His difficulties in establishing some kind of order at the radio station as the new boss will also be familiar to any who have stepped into a new workplace and been at a complete and utter loss.

As always, with any Nick Earls book, I snorted with laughter throughout. In fact, finishing the last couple of chapters yesterday at my hairdresser’s, I had to show the book and do a ‘book talk’ to everyone because I was so openly shaking with giggles.

If you are like me, a Nick Earls devotee, do yourself a favour and put this on your ‘to read’ list without delay.

 

Recommended for anyone with a sense of humour. Stay tuned for my blog interview with Nick Earls, coming up soon.

Caesar the War Dog #3: Operation Pink Elephant – Stephen Dando-Collins

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Caesar the War Dog #3: Operation Pink Elephant – Stephen Dando-Collins
ISBN: 9780857981684
Published: 01/08/2014
Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s
Extent: 288 pages
RRP $16.99

Everyone’s favourite canine hero, Caesar, is back and off on another serious mission with his buddy, Ben.
The Global Rapid Reaction Responders (GRRR) are shocked to find out that their friend Lucky, who is currently working for the Tanzanian Government as a wildlife ranger, has been kidnapped by notorious elephant poachers. These evil men, led by a particularly vile ‘General’, not only show a complete lack of compassion and morals regarding the elephants but also intimidate local villagers, kidnap children and force them to train as ‘soldiers’ and treat the wildlife rangers with contempt and violence.
It is up to the GRRR team to track down these nefarious wrong-doers and rescue Lucky and save the elephants. Ben and Caesar execute a risky parachute jump into a rough sea to meet up with the rest of team on HMAS Canberra and the adventure begins. On landing in Tanzania the team begin to put together clues and set upon the trail of poachers. Caesar’s expert nose is really going to be the advantage to Ben and his team as they track down their good friend and the illegal cargo of ivory.
These are terrific books for boys who are not so keen to read. They are fast-paced, with a vocabulary that is not too demanding. There is enough action and suspense to sustain the thirst for adventure without being disturbingly graphic. Stephen Dando-Collins has an effective connection with his readership and it has been my observation that when I suggest one of his titles to my boys, they are keen for more when they have finished.

In addition, this title encourages readers to think about several very important ethical issues.

Click here to read a sample.

Visit the author’s website.

Recommended for readers aged around 10 and up.

Only The Animals –Ceridwen Dovey

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Only The Animals –Ceridwen Dovey

Penguin Australia

Published:23/04/2014

Format:Paperback, 256 pages

RRP:$29.99

ISBN-13:9781926428581

ISBN-10:1926428587

 

Book Cover:  Only the Animals

This is possibly one of the most unusual and intriguing books I’ve ever read. It is a collection of short stories told from the point of view of various animals recounting their interactions with humans. Ten different animals from mussel to elephant to tortoise reveal the best and worst of their human ‘owners’.

For example, imagine for a moment that you are a tortoise – the type kept as backyard pets – quite often in British or European gardens.  And then, further, imagine that you as the tortoise, move next door and find that you are now the tortoise of Leo Tolstoy’s family home. Tolstoy you say? Yes indeed, and after a time, carved into your shell the great man’s words ‘I love many things, I love all people’.  And then, even later, you – the tortoise – are packed up and sent to one Virginia Woolf in England. Virginia loved animals and kept quite a menagerie as a young girl. Delighted with the receipt of this interesting animal, Virginia speaks often about the book she is writing about Elizabeth Browning and her little companion dog Flush.  And then following the London Blitz, you – this extraordinary tortoise, come to live with George Orwell and observe him working on his novel ‘Animal Farm: a fairy story”.

This book has been described as ‘playful and poignant’ and so I found it. I loved the Jack Kerouac style mussel story particularly!

For those of us who believe that all sentient beings have a meaningful life, it is a truly enlightening read.

Not for your average reader – but for those who are looking for something quite unique and thought-provoking this is indeed a worthwhile escape into another world.

Recommended for discerning readers – older students and adults

Calypso Summer – Jared Thomas

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Calypso Summer – Jared Thomas

Magabala Books

Author:Jared Thomas

Illustrator:N/A

Published:Apr 2014

Size:198 x 128

Pages:224

ISBN:9781922142122

Ages:Young Adult

Format:Paperback

 Calypso Summer

Kyle Summer is a young Nukunu man who lives near Henley Beach in Adelaide. He’s known to all as Calypso because of his dreadlocks, love of Bob Marley and reggae music and the West Indies cricket team. His Rasta persona masks his own insecurities. After leaving school and failing to get his dream job in a sports store, he is at a loss and spends a lot of time smoking dope and not much else. Then things start to look up, he ends up with a job in a health food store and really has a knack for it, gets on well with his boss and starts to turn his life around. He moves out of home and into a little flat and feels proudly independent. The blight on this is a cousin, Run, moving in to bludge.  When his boss suggests getting some native bush remedies to sell as products in the store, Calypso’s mother directs him to his mob in the Southern Flinders Ranges and this urban Indigenous man begins to develop an affinity with his country and culture.

 

Ensuing troubles with some less than welcoming cousins, and the dead-beat Run, who is thieving and dealing dope result in some major drama for Calypso but the support of his new girlfriend, a smart Ngadjuri girl who happens to share his passion for cricket and the newly found family circle prove the right medicine for his woes.

 

Winning the State Library of Queensland award in 2013 Black & Write competition, Jared Thomas has tried to provide a realistic view of the struggle for young Indigenous people and their conflicts with cultures.

 

Personally I found the novel a bit hard-going at times and found it difficult to connect with the characters or be sympathetic. I have Koori and Murri family and friends, have spent years teaching Indigenous kids, young adults and adults and worked in Indigenous units and while lots of these friends use the word ‘deadly’ their vocabulary does also embrace other adjectives.  There was a point when I thought if I read the word ‘deadly’ one more time I might just scream.  The novel seemed rather heavy-handed in its heaping upon the reader every conceivable Indigenous issue.

 

That being said, I believe that young people would relate to it and non-Indigenous readers would gain some understanding of the challenges facing Indigenous culture.

 

The novel is marketed as YA but I would suggest that it is only suitable for mature Senior students. The frequent profanity and emphasis on drug usage would make me hesitate about making it generally available.

Homeroom Diaries – James Patterson & Lisa  Papadmetriou/ ill. By Keino

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Random House Australia

ISBN: 9780099596264

Published: 01/08/2014

Imprint: Arrow (Young)

Extent: 272 pages

 

RRP $17.99

From one of the world’s best- selling authors comes his newest YA novel – an illustrated diary from a clearly unusual character. James Patterson introduces Margaret, Maggie, more usually self-styled as ‘Cuckoo’. Amidst the hell that is high school, Maggie’s friends who are one of the unpopular ‘nations’ decide to beat the Haters at their own game and call themselves The Freakshow.  Cuckoo, Brainzilla, Zitsy, Eggy, Tebow, and Flatso have been friends a long time and amongst the warzone groups at North Plains High School they support each other in the face of ‘the Jocks, Nerds, Twinkies, Otaku, Barbies, Goths, Eurotrash, Jailbait, Stoners, Joiners, Glommers, Delusionals, Haters, Wankstas, Thespians, Teachers, Terror Teachers, Zomboids, Robots, Gleeks, United Colors of Bennetoners, Libertarians, Activists, Juvies, Baristas [and] Blahs’.  Whew!  Pretty much sounds like any normal high school to me.

Maggie gives herself her nickname because she spent ten days in the local mental hospital, after her mother took off and left her with no money and no food – and just didn’t come back. Recovering from this sadness, Maggie now lives with her neighbour Mrs Morrison who is just the kind of caring foster-mother Maggie needs in her life. She also starts a diary so she can continue with her healing process but mostly because she loves to write.

With loads of humour and some fabulous cartoon illustrations with a Gothic manga style, this novel deals with some fairly intense teenage problems which are sadly far too common with a deft hand. Problems with teachers, problems with boys, problems with bullies, problems with parents and problems with life in general are dealt with in a way which lessens the trauma without desensitizing the reader.  And the satisfactory ending is not an ending but segues into the next instalment to which I anticipate readers, including myself, will look forward.

I doubt that boys will go for this given the female protagonist (and the hot pink cover) which is a shame as I think it would definitely appeal to both. There is some mature content which leads me to recommend this for Middle to Senior students. This is a great read (one sitting!) – easily accessible language for the easily daunted reader and with a very fast pace.

Find out more at James Patterson’s official Australian webpage.

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Pearlie Goes to Rio – Wendy Harmer/ill. Gypsy Taylor

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Pearlie Goes to Rio – Wendy Harmer/ill. Gypsy Taylor

ISBN: 9780857982162

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 48 pages

RRP $14.99. Paperback.

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Hurly Burly!  Pearlie is just in time for the World Cup!  I think any of us who have seen our younger girls squabbling like parrots over the Pearlie books will know that this newest one will be a welcome addition to any library shelf.

Pearlie catches a magic ladybeetle ride to Rio where she meets a new friend, Morena the Tijuca Forest fairy, and is completely enthralled with the exotic wildlife like colourful birds and lizards that walk on water. But it’s the amazingly beautiful caterpillars that really impress her and she is more than happy to take care of feeding them, and guarding them while they metamorphose inside their chrysalises. After all, when they emerge it will be time for the giant celebration of the Butterfly Carnival.

Narrowly escaping a scary mishap with a naughty bird, Pearlie and Morena are ready to samba the night away at the most wonderful event ever.

Miss Small is a real Pearlie devotee and she, as well as many others, will eat this up with a relish.

Round off your class’ interest in the World Cup celebrations in Brazil by sharing Pearlie’s Rio experience with them – they will love it!

Highly recommended for newly independent readers, especially girls, from 6 upwards.