Michael is the author of over thirty books included the highly acclaimed Legends and Anniversary Legends series. He is also pretty mad-keen on sport. He has played cricket, football, soccer, tennis, hockey, and golf.
In this interview, Michael discusses his latest series, The Book of Gabrielle; a sinister tale about a girl without a past and an extraordinary ability to see things others can’t.
What inspired you to write the Gabrielle Series?
I’ve had lots of ideas floating around in my head involving weird and sinister things happening – a kind of horror series perhaps – and in talking to kids, I know that they are very curious about the mystical / ghostly kind of themes. Things just slightly quirky and off centre have always intrigued me and so writing this series gave me the chance to enter that world!
What is your favourite part of The Boy Who Wasn’t There?
I like the spider and moth scenes – I’ve already had a few comments and reactions to those scenes. I don’t want to horrify people or make them feel yuck, but getting a reaction from your readers is really important for an author as it means that they are connecting on an emotional level with the book.
Who designed the cover?
The cover was designed by Lisa Austin (illustration by Dean Jones) and I really love it! It’s such a powerful image and I keep noticing new things appearing – I find that very creepy. And I love the way it bleeds onto the back cover too. Ha – I’ve just noticed a dark, hooded person crouching – on the back cover.
Did The Boy Who Wasn’t There change much between the initial idea and the final book?
Quite a bit, but not the basic concept. It’s funny when you start out with your first ideas for a book and you think they are absolutely the best and no way will anything change and then you talk to really clever people like Andrew and Melissa at black dog books and suddenly those amazing ideas are, well, okay, but….
Are any of the characters (Gabrielle) based on real people / people you know?
Not directly, but I’m sure there are aspects of people that I’ve met or read about that come into my characters in small ways. It would be kind of easy if I could copy people that I know into books but then again, the character wouldn’t quite be the character I was wanting to portray. I like being around kind, friendly people so most of my characters I guess are kind and friendly – or else they turn out to be. Not all, mind you!
How did you conceive your plot ideas for Gabrielle?
Well, don’t tell anyone, but I lie in bed at night (like most people!) and I play little movies in my head. I try and sit above the action and not interfere with what’s going on and I just watch stuff happen. Stuff that I make up. If I like something going on I sometimes open my eyes and jot a few things down on my notepad. When I’ve got enough good things happening, I start writing up a kind of summary of the story. After that I break it all up into chapters. I’m not locked into that structure, but I like to have things pretty much sorted before I start writing.
What made you decide to use a female protagonist?
I definitely wanted to have a strong male character in each of the books, so I thuought it would be best to have the main protagonist as a female and then have the back up of lots of males. Lots of my sporty books have lead male characters so I enjoy the challenge of writing from a female point of view – like The Vanishings.
Being a male, did you find it challenging to write a narrative with a female protagonist?
Yes, it is a bit challenging, though I don’t go to any great depths in terms of exploring Gabby’s inner world and secrets. I guess I don’t need to as she has enough issues going on, what with having no family or no past! As a teacher at a co-ed school, I’m surrounded by boys and girls on a daily basis, so I’m pretty comfortable writing from both genders’ point of view.
What were you reading while writing The Boy Who Wasn’t There?
I tend to read something a bit different from the genre that I’m writing about. I was actually reading a book called The Sea, which won the Booker Prize in 2007 – I think. It was beautifully written and you sensed that it was building up to something a bit tragic – which actually happened.
What is it that scares you?
I don’t like the night – I don’t like sounds that I can’t explain that happen in the dead of night. I don’t like the fact that I never get up to check what caused the sound, because there’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation if only I could drag myself out of bed… but what if it’s something else? Something horrible and dark and sinister?
Do you believe in ghosts?
Well – there’s an interesting question. One day I need to write down the totally weird and spooky events that happened in the house I grew up in as a child. A house where someone died way back in the 1920s. Door handles turning, pot plants falling off shelves, music starting up in the middle of the night, lights flickering; glasses smashing…. Did I answer the question???
Why do you like writing in the horror genre?
Because I’m intrigued by the mysterious and sinister and unknown and because lots of kids are too!
Have you ever had any spooky, other-worldly experiences?
Apart from the ones described above – AND the weird, spooky sounds in the dead of night, which COULD be quite normal really, well, no… not really.
What did you read when you were a kid?
It took me quite a while to get going as a reader when I was younger. I used to love reading comics and sporty stuff; magazines, footy records, sports pages from newspapers. The first novels I got into were by Willard Price – the Adventure series. Lion Adventure, Underwater Adventure, Elephant Adventure, Safari Adventure, Cannibal Adventure (that one was very cool!) There were stacks of them.
What do you think you will write next?
I’m thinking about writing a series based on Nippers – Surf Rescue. Set at a town by the ocean in summer. I think that would be heaps of fun. I know there are heaps of children who spend hours learning about safety by the ocean and are getting really fit and healthy doing it as well as having plenty of fun surfing and swimming.
(And a question just for fun) If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
I would play me because I think I know me best and I would then become a famous actor!
The Book of Gabrielle is now available from your local bookshop or at our website