The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged in the Next Big Thing Blog Meme, in which writers answer a series of questions on their works in progress. The author who shot the arrow was Adrian Deans, whose Four Four Two meets Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels sports crime adventure thriller Mr Cleansheets (Vulgar Press, 2010) is a top read from beginning to end.

Readers of this blog know that my previous books for adults are Players, Making News and Australia United. They have all been recently converted to ebook and are available on Amazon. I have seven picture books for kids. The most recent two are The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse (Schoalstic 2012) and The Elephant in the Room (ebook only).

1)  What is the working title of your current/next book

I’m currently working on a novel for adults (working title Pigeons and Bowerbirds) but my contracted title is another epic rhyming picture book for kids, called Emo the Emu. The birds in the former title are figurative; it’s actually about stealing an idea for a novel, whereas the bird in the latter is a literal bird, who walks, talks and tours Australia in the manner you’d expect from a walking, talking, touring bird.

2)  Where did the idea come from?

The idea for Pigeons and Bowerbirds came from my involvement with the Pigeons charity, now the 100 Story Building, and some writing projects I did with primary school students, especially one with a kid called Skerry entitled ‘Hip Hop Academy’.


The idea for Emo came from hanging out at Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment. Steve has now departed from the Convent, but for six months he counselled me through a difficult time, and told me to ‘write that Emo the Emu idea because it will end up being the Mad Max of talking Australiana children’s literature’.

3)  What genre does your book fall under?

Pigeons and Bowerbirds veers towards the same genre as Players and Making News, which is ‘sort of funny while still trying to make a point’. It’s not a great genre. I might put a witch in to sneak it into sci-fi.

Emo the Emu is a picture book, with a very similar rhyming meter to the The Thirsty Flowers

Here is a taste:

“On the wild grassy plains west of Old Humpty Doo

Lived the moodiest, mopeyest, saddest Emu

Just why he was sad, well he didn’t quite know

But he was, so the other birds called him, ‘Emo’.

‘I hate running fast,’ he would say to his brother

‘I hate coming last,’ he would say to his mother

‘I hate living here at the top of Australia

I’m Emo the Emu, the world’s biggest failure’.”

4)  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Just this week I rewatched the excellent Wonder Boys movie adaptation of the Michael Chabon novel, and if Pigeons and Bowerbirds was being cast this week, rather than being procrastinated upon, I would be looking for the equivalent sort of troubled, downtrodden male lead in the Michael Douglas of twenty years ago mould. Maybe Rhys Muldoon?

‘Emo the Emu’, if it ever receives a live action adaptation, will be played by this guy.

5)  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Pigeons and Bowerbirds – An author, experiencing a mid career dip, pinches the idea of a lifetime ― someone else’s lifetime.

Emo the Emu – A depressed Emu, who thinks he hates everything, including Australia, tours the nation with Katie the Kangaroo and discovers it’s not so bad.

6)  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Emo the Emu will be published by Scholastic in 2014. They are currently signing an illustrator.  My novel does not yet have a publisher. I’m represented by Pippa Masson at Curtis Brown.

7)  How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I haven’t finished my first draft of the novel yet. Emo took about seven days.

8)  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I mentioned Wonder Boys before. I’d happily accept the mantle of ‘the poor man’s Michael Chabon’. Players and Making News were both consistently compared to Nick Hornby novels. The story in Pigeons and Bowerbirds has some echoes in Jared Hess’s Napoleon Dynamite follow up, Gentlemen Broncos. (not a great movie)

9)  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As mentioned above, my involvement in the Pigeons Project garnered the novel idea. Emo was written in the aftermath of my baby’s diagnosis with cerebral palsy. It was a particularly sad time, and Emo the Emu tapped into some of that sadness, albeit with a comic beat. I was also touring primary school in northern New South Wales with Alison Lester, the woman who wrote the ultimate Aussie road trip picture book, ‘Are We There Yet?’

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The first third of Pigeons and Bowerbirds is set at Byron Bay Writers Festival.  If Players lampooned commercial TV, and Making News had a go at tabloids, Pigeons and Bowerbirds is my attempt to skewer writers and publishers.

Emo the Emu, before it found a publisher, was performed live as part of the Aireys Inlet Festival of Words. Former Penguin boss, Bob Sessions, shook my hand on the way off stage and told me to ‘send it to Penguin on Monday morning’.

I did. And no, they didn’t.

It’s now my turn to do some tagging.

Kim Kane‘s picture book,The Family Forest was shortlisted for the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. Her first novel, Pip: the story of Olive, won the 2008 Barbara Ramsden Award and was shortlisted for the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards. In the mid nineties, she studied law with me and dressed me up as a party popper.

Sean Condon wrote the funniest travel book Australia has ever produced in Sean and David’s Long Drive. He’s written six other books, as well as some of history’s saddest facebook posts.

Nicole Hayes loved the 1980s Hawthorn team even more than I did. As a teenager, she regularly attended the clubrooms and that experience has informed her debut novel, The Whole of My World. It’s being published by Random House in June, and (hopefully) will be the next big thing.

Claudia Rowe is also a veteran of the ABC’s Race Around the World, with all the dripping credibility that comes from being a series one racer. In recent times, she has become a bum author, with titles ranging from The Very Hungry Bum, to Bum Magic, to the Bum Yoga Book.