#LoveOzYA Q&A with Michael Gerard Bauer
Michael Gerard Bauer is an award-winning Australian author of children's and YA fiction. His books, including The Running Man and Don't Call Me Ishmael, are sold in more than 40 countries. Michael's latest novel, The Things That Will Not Stand, is out now.
Let’s go back to the beginning…have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult?
I don’t remember telling too many stories as a kid. I think my first real desire to use my own words to create ‘stories’ of sorts was when I was a teenager and I learned to play guitar and wanted to write songs and be the Australian version of Bob Dylan.
I still love music and song lyrics which is probably why in the Ishmael books Ishmael’s dad is the singer-songwriter of the band The Dugongs. This meant that I had to write song lyrics to include in Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs and eventually a miracle occurred and I got to perform those songs live at the White Ravens Literature festival in Munich playing with a German version of The Dugongs. I’d always wanted to be in a rock band and for one night only my dream come true.
When I was at Uni and after when I became an English teacher I started to dream more about maybe writing short stories and getting them published. I never did get around to doing that, but one of the short stories I had in my head eventually grew into my first novel The Running Man.
Tell us about your new book.
The new book is called The Things That Will Not Stand. The title is taken from a line spoken by the character of The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in The Big Lebowski, one of my all-time favourite movies.
The story of the novel takes place over just eight or so hours at a University Open Day for school students. It is told in the present tense by Sebastian, a year eleven student who is attending the day with his best friend, Tolly.
Early on in the day Sebastian meets Frida. She’s not the girl he really wants to meet and so at first he sees her as the ‘wrong girl’. But as Sebastian and Frida, along with Tolly, spend a surprising and eventful day together, a connection begins to form.
The story focuses on emerging relationship between Sebastian and Frida, the stories they share, the secrets they hide and the truths and lies that are revealed as the layers of their lives are slowly peeled away. Sebastian in particular wants to get to know the ‘real’ Frida but that means revealing some uncomfortable truths of his own. The story is a mix of both comedy and drama because as Sebastian points out about life, “It’s never just one type of thing.”
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I don’t think there were OzYA books when I was growing up! The category didn’t really exist. Probably the only book that I read as a teenager that would be considered YA today was Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
I was well and truly an adult before I read any OzYA books. My first favourites were by Markus Zusak – Fighting Ruben Wolf, The Underdog, When Dogs Cry and particularly The Messenger. It was those books that inspired me to have a go at writing a novel of my own.
Did you have anyone who encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
No one in particular. I was encouraged by my family in general who all read. I am the youngest in my family, so I was always keen to do what my older brother and sisters were doing – and they loved reading.
We also had an uncle who was an avid reader. He lived and worked in Canberra, but when he came up to visit us he would often bring books with him. One time he brought a couple of books he said we had to read. We’d never heard of them. They were The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
That’s hard to say. Maybe the voice is more down to earth and direct, which might be a reflection of the people and country that have given rise to them. Most of the books I read these days are YA and most of those would be by Australian authors. Maybe I just connect and relate more to them. Or maybe Australian YA authors are on the whole just better writers who write better books...
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Here in Brisbane we have some excellent independent bookshops. Two of my favourites would be Riverbend Books and Avid Reader (Where the Wild Thing Are). Both are operated by people who are passionate about books and both shops support and promote local authors.
I don’t have a particular favourite library, but my favourite libraries in general are those brilliant school libraries I have the pleasure of spending time in during on my school visits - the ones run by dedicated, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and inspirational librarians. We need more of them!
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I really enjoyed the last two books I’ve read and they were both adult books which is a bit unusual for me. They were Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (loved it!) and The Nowhere Child by Christian White. The last YA book I read was Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue, which deserved all the awards it received.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I still like playing guitar and pretending I can sing. Occasionally, I also pretend I’m that songwriter I always wanted to be and try to force some words into a tune.
Is binge watching drama series on Netflix with my wife ‘exploring my creativity’?
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
I don’t know about worst, but I often hear people say you should write ‘every day’. I could never do that. I might think about stories and writing a lot of the time, but I have big gaps where I don’t feel like writing at all, and so I don’t (unless you include Facebook posts which I’m guessing you wouldn’t).
The thing is, some advice works for some writers and not for others. For example, the suggestion to join a writing group is excellent advice for some. But it wouldn’t be for me because I hate sharing or discussing something I’m in the process of writing.
All the best pieces of writing advice I’ve been given would have come from my brilliant editor Celia Jellett. I remember in the manuscript for The Running Man she crossed out one of the two adjectives I’d used to describe something and wrote above it, ‘Sometimes one is stronger than two.’ Great advice for someone with a tendency to over-write.
I don’t know who said it but I also like the quote, “Writers write. Authors finish” because I really think you need that determination and persistence to see a project through.
And I’m not sure if it qualifies as advice but I used to have the following quote from Thomas Mann stuck on my laptop (until I bought a new laptop!) “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Always comforting to keep that in mind when you hit the inevitable demoralising lows that occur along the writing journey!
And MY best piece of writing advice? Go for regular long walks.
What do you love about OzYA?
I love its freshness, its relevance, its honesty, its willingness to take on challenging issues and its pace. I love also that its protagonists are at an age of heightened emotions, a time in their life that is often full of change, conflict, challenges, personal growth and self-discovery – all of which are great ingredients for a story worth telling. And I love the fact that an Australian voice – of which there are many unique and fascinating variations – will be telling it.
The Things That Will Not Stand is out now through Scholastic Australia. You can read more about it here.