Last week, AWMonline subscribers spoke with Australian YA author Michael Gerard Bauer during an online forum. The dynamics of having so many enthusiatic writers put questions to our internationally successful guest quickly created a warm and vibrant conversation. Here are some highlights from the discussion:
Kate: How conscious are you of the influence of your locality when writing?
MBG: Quite a bit. I taught at Marist Brothers in Brisbane and I based the school setting for “Don’t Call me Ishmael” on that. I felt the Ashgrove location a great deal in The Running Man and made a conscious decision to use the real suburb and street names in the story because it was based on some childhood memories of growing up there.
Robyn: Do you think having been a teacher has helped you as a writer, and if it has, what have you found most valuable about it?
MBG: Yes, definitely. I think it gave me a good understanding of the people I was writing about. I certainly couldn’t have written ishmael as well without drawing on my teaching years. During teaching I also read lots of YA books and loved them. Now when I visit schools to talk I feel very comfortable in that environment.
Samantha: What are some of the things that helped you make the trasition from full-time teacher to full-time writer, Michael?
MGB: Desperation to write the story was one thing! Having a very supportive wife who continued full time work helped a lot too. And some great good fortune.
Lynn: Do you work solely on one project at a time or do you mix it up?
MGB: I work on one project at a time but there has always been the next story in the back of my mind that starts to take over when the first one comes to an end.
Samantha: What does your writing week look like and how has your success, and associated PR obligations, impacted on your ability to write new material?
MGB: My writing week looks like a bit of a shambles most times! I’m trying to be more consistent and organised with my writing. On a good day I would have an early walk (really helps with ideas) have breakfast, write till lunch and then for a few hours after lunch. I have had to think more in the last 2 years about balancing writing and school/festival vists because sometimes I’ve been away for 5 weeks in a row interstate. You have to make space for the writing.
Kate: As a former teacher, and as a writer for young readers, what are your thoughts about encouraging creative writing in young people?
MGB: I don’t mind encouraging kids to enter comps. It gives them a structure and a focus for their writing. As long as winning or getting a prize is not the main objective but more simply a way to practice their writing.
Jim: I can understand the joy and passion of writing, but what is the most frustrating part of your successful life as an author?
MGB: I really feel blessed to have the chance to be a full time writer so I feel I’ve got nothing to complain about … but … I guess like every writer it’s when the ideas in your head end up all clunky on the page and that hard struggle to get it right. There are great rewards of course when you do it. Also wanting to write and not being able to because of other commitments.
Elaine: Do you recommend having an agent or trying to find a publisher?
MGB: I can’t say much about having an agent. I don’t have one but I know some authors who do and swear by them. I tend to do everything myself and I must admit sometimes I think it would be nice to have someone negotiate contracts etc for you. My overseas sales have all been organised by the rights people at Scholastic.
Joanne: Do you have a critique group or circle of people that you use to help you with your projects?
MGB: No, I don’t. I think I’m too self conscious to be scrutinised! But I know people who do and find them a great source of support and inspiration.
Jodi: Do you think your teaching background has led you to write YA novels? What are you working on at the moment? Do you ever think you’ll write/publish more short fiction?
MGB: Yes, I think my teaching has led me to YA novels. Although i tend to write stories that I like rather than think too much about aiming them at a particular audience. Must be my arrested development that they end up YA! At present I’m writing a shorter novel – 25000 – words where the narrator is a 11 yr old boy. he tells the story of his dog’s life but also reveals things about his family. i’m not sure who will want to read it but I have to write anyway.
Luke: I know Dinosaur Knights has only just been released, but are you working on your next project yet? Can you tell us anything about it?
MGB: I’m enjoying trying to write [my latest story] from a young narrator’s POV. It means my language has to be simple and straight forward. I want to tell a powerful story with simple language. Some people might say I use too much imagery and symbolism and exaggerated similes/metaphors in some of my previous novels!
Robyn: I’ve been reading lately that YA and kids books seem to be selling well – better than books for adults even – despite the ‘global economic crisis’ .
MGB: I think children’s books particularly in Australia are so strong and well written so maybe they are better placed to weather the storm.
Meg: Thank you to all our wonderful forum particpants – you have created a fantastic, informative discussion that shows such enthusiasm for the craft of writing. And special thanks to our guest, Michael Bauer. Your generosity in sharing your experience with our beginner and developing writers from around Australia has enriched us all, Michael. You’re a treasure!
MGB: Thanks everyone, this has been such great fun! Thank you for your wonderful questions. I hope I’ve managed to make some sense with my answers. I might have to have a lie down now though …