While the #Nestpitch Teams work with their authors and prepare for the Agent Round I took some time out to interview a very special YA author and invited him to take a seat on my virtual coach for our Semi-Regular section called Five Minutes With…Today I’m joined by fellow Aussie Michael Hyde, author of YA novels MAX, Tyger Tyger, Hey Joe, Surfing Goliath and sports series Change the Game as well as a literary memoir of the sixties, All Along the Watchtower. Michael has a new novel coming out on May 1st through Ford Street Publishing http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php
Having met Michael at another launch event by Ford Street Publishing I took the opportunity to twist his arm and subject himself to a quick interview.
Michael Hyde’s novels for Young Adults, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘MAX’ and ‘Tyger Tyger’ have experienced critical success and continue to be widely read and taught in many schools. ‘Hey Joe‘ – about the Vietnam War, the movement against it and the sixties in Australia – was named as a Notable Book in the 2004 CBC Awards. Many of his short stories for Younger Readers are published in the Trend /Awesome Series including the popular titles: The Footy Coach from Hell, Seal saves the Island and How I got a girlfriend.
Michael also edited two senior anthologies for the Australian Association of English Teachers (AATE), ‘Hunger’ (CBC Notable Book 2004) and ‘The Girl who Married a Fly’ (CBC Notable Book 2002). Both anthologies feature popular YA Australian writers (including Michael) and like his novels, enjoy significant sales.
Michael’s, ‘Change the Game’ series – choose-your-own-adventure sports books became overnight favourites with young readers, 20,000 + copies being sold in one year.
His bodyboarding novel, ‘Surfing Goliath’ (Lothian/Hachette), published in May 2006, sold out in three months.
His many non-fiction works include being the series editor and writer for the national English Series, Englishworks, a writer for the Macmillan series Mosaic, and his own textbook The Diary of my Secret Life (a guide to the craft of writing). Other non-fiction works include the Richard Osborne biography, Ossie Rules; and Asia at a Glance – a CD Rom and English Curriculum Units for secondary students.
After a long career as an English teacher Michael (with stints as a journalist and truck driver) now lectures in Professional Writing, Sports Writing and Children’s Texts at Victoria University.
Michael also conducts writing workshops for students and teachers across Australia. He lives in Melbourne with Gabrielle and Zachariah, the youngest of his four children. He loves the bush, the desert, the sea, Aussie Rules footy (especially Collingwood), canoeing and encouraging others to write.
His latest work, as part of his PhD, is a literary memoir on the Sixties, ‘All Along the Watchtower’ (Vulgar Press). He has also begun another YA novel, ‘Morrison and Mr Moore’, about an unlikely friendship between a soon-to-retire school Principal and a rebellious 17 year old student.
So, let’s start our Five-Minutes With… interrogation … erh…I mean, questions
Qu. 1 What categories & genres do you primarily write in?
MH: Although I’ve written a number of short stories for adults, I write mainly for teens and YA. Having four kids of my own as well as teaching working class teens for many years I found that my stories were strongly influenced, both in themes and plots, by those kids. Much of my work looks at on-the-edge stuff, and young people being ‘up against it’. I think much of my writing would fall into a broad category of ‘social realism’. Although if you read my books you’ll also detect a healthy dose of magical realism – MAX is the best example of that.
Qu 2. Given you write both fiction and non-fiction, do you have a regular group of people who give you feedback?
MH: I think the worst thing you can say to a publisher is, ‘But all my friends think it’s great!’ (God save me…) You can have too many and too few. Depending on what I’m writing, I’ll usually only get advice from one or two others. My wife, Gabrielle (a very hard marker) and another writer. Then it’s off to the editor. I had a fabulous editor for Footy Dreaming (Gemma Dean-Furlong) and for most of my other YA novels I had Foong Ling Kong. These two demonstrate how to work with a writer. I want an editor to have an idea of what I’m trying to do and then help me hit the target in re-writes. I also want them to discuss differences with me and to be prepared for me to explain/argue why I did such and such etc. I’ve had a couple of really horrible/stupid editors as well – no names mentioned. Ha!
Qu. 3 Do you have an active social media presence and if so, which is your preferred poison?
MH: my old publisher has a website (Vulgar Press) with info about me. I intend getting up a new one in the next few months. I do some Facebook, email a lot, text a lot, but NO twitter – I know, I know it’s very useful but quite frankly I want time to ponder, reflect, or do nothing rather than being intruded upon.
(Note from Nik: I think I’ll keep quiet about my seemingly never-ending twittering!)
Qu. 4 What is your opinion on Blogs?
MH: I love blogs but don’t read many. It’s such a wonderful way to communicate and has a strong democratic flavour. BTW I checked out yours – what a great read and explore (Nik blushes!). I have my own which I haven’t touched for a long time (allalongthewatchtower68) mainly due to a few things happening in my life and also completing my PhD (on the lived experience of the 60s in Australia). But I intend to hit the blog trail again. It certainly lets you get some shit off your liver.
Qu. 5. Do you have a website?
MH: see above
Qu. 6 What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author about
(ii) Preparing for a launch
MH: the same advice as finishing a book. Dot your I’s and cross your t’s. Yes you’ve been published but now you have to get it out there – workshops, talks, calling in favours, being bold about approaching booksellers and reviewers and so on. And make sure you CELEBRATE!
Qu. 7 Was writing in both fiction and non-fiction a conscious decision or did it happen organically?
MH: Organically. A sooth sayer told me once that I’d write non fiction for many years. I dismissed this but lo and behold. Non fiction taught me to write better fiction – more clarity, sequencing, awareness of audience without letting it throttle you. I reckon every type of writing informs every other form.
Qu. 8 Given there are more options for aspiring authors these days, what advice would you give an aspiring author on:
(i) signing with a literary agent
MH: I had one once when I wrote stage plays for school audiences but while he was Ok it didn’t bring me much work. Most agents won’t touch you unless you’re ‘a name’ or have a book that they are really taken by. Even though many publishers these days say ‘only through agents’, try and find gaps in the publisher’s armour, get names of receptionists, chat to published writers etc.
(ii) signing with a traditional publisher
MH: good if you can get it but sometimes you become lost in a tidal wave of other books they’re putting out. I’ve had mainly non fiction with traditional publishers who were ok to work with and their distribution id their strong point.
MH: nothing wrong with it but we often become swept up with the idea of a published book (and why not) but don’t do the hard work re working out how it’s going to be seen, read and so on. Also self-publishing demands a good editor. I read one recently which was OK but god, did it ever need a strong editor. Many writers’ centres have names of editors who will do it for a fee. Get advice re books they’ve had a hand in.
Qu. 9 As an author, if you could do your time over, what would you do differently?
MH: Nothing. Although I shouldn’t have been so annoyed when a friend told me re:an earlier book that ‘I was doing my apprenticeship’, bc that’s exactly what I was doing. (note from Nik: I have often said this very sale thing to friends, a professional gymnast doesn’t become brilliant at their chosen field overnight either)
Qu. 10 If your child came up to you at say age 16 and said, “I’m going to be an author,” what one piece of advice would you give them that you’d really want them to adhere to?
MH: You will never get cynicism from me – so ‘follow your dreams and pay your own bills.’ I’d also say that it’s good if you have a job that’s connected to writing; and no matter what you’re doing keep an eye out for your story.
Be observant and have a sense of wonder!
A little about the novel:
Ben and Noah play on opposing teams in a footy-obsessed town. They each dream of playing on the G – and this is their make or break season.
Tensions rise as sledging goes too far.
Will Noah lose his cool, and his chance, in the face of prejudice?
Will Ben reject racism and forge his own path?
Noah and Ben have the potential to play in the AFL. It’s up to each of them whether they make it.
Qu1. The cover of Footy Dreaming is brilliant, how did it come about?
What a saga. Went from two guys jumping for the ball but then Paul Collins said to the designers that he wanted ‘more design’. Slowly but surely it emerged we had problems bc we didn’t have a good pic of a Koori teen playing footy but Paul fixed that up through his school contacts. It is the best cover of any of my books without a doubt. Wanted to capture the dreamlike quality, where they came from and where they wanted to go. Yes I just love it.
Qu2. Australia is known for its ‘footy craziness’ so I’m sure the title will appeal to many readers. Without giving too much away, what do you think will most surprise the reader of Footy Dreaming?
MH: for most it will be the under currents of friendship, racism and people’s dreams. There’s so much more to sport other than the stupid constants of betting, violence and political bullshit. Tyger Tyger (my other YA book on footy) dealt with metaphor and poetry of footy/sport.
Qu3. The launch is on May 1st at the Ford Street Publishing offices and I noticed that Phil Cleary is launching Footy Dreaming. (For our friends of the other side of the pond, Phil Cleary is a football commentator, a footy legend, an advocate and campaigner to prevent violence against women, a socially conscious advocate of many worthwhile causes and a published author). Did you choose Phil because of his football connections to launch Footy Dreaming?
MH: I’ve known Phil for a long time. He also worked with my wife on govt campaigns against violence against women – ‘Real men don’t abuse women.’ His sister was murdered by her ex as well. His footy history was very important but also bc my novel raises social issues he seemed to hit the mark. What’s more he was delighted to do it.
Qu4. And now, a really tough question, are you a dog or cat person?
MH: Gabrielle and my youngest Zach insistence on getting a border collie turned me into a dog person. Previously I didn’t mind dogs but Tobie has turned my head. I just love him although I still don’t like friends kissing their dogs on the lips – eerrggh.
Let me start by saying I am far from the ideal target audience for Michael Hyde’s Footy Dreaming. I rarely read YA, and almost never read fiction where the protagonist(s) are male teenagers, and know practically nothing about Australian Rules football. I’m probably going to be stoned for that last comment; especially given I was raised in Melbourne. Oddly enough, after reading Footy Dreaming (in 24-hours I might add), I think I might be the ideal reviewer for those every same reasons.
Told from the viewpoints of two fifteen year olds, one of whom is Australian Aboriginal and both with dreams of making to the national AFL, this is much more about learning to embrace our differences than it is about the game of Aussie Rules. For that reason, regardless if your sporting poison is football (any league or country) baseball, cricket, basketball or indeed, any team-sport, you will relate. And even if, like me, you couldn’t list all the teams in the AFL and have no clue as to the positions of the players, you’ll still enjoy this novel. And here’s the simple answer as to why; great writing is great writing.
I’ve selected a few of my favourite lines to demonstrate:
“…to Noah it felt like pain and sadness were other passengers in the car…” (in this scene fifteen year old Noah and his family are driving three hours to his grandmother’s home hoping to get there before she passes away)
(and after his grandmother passes away) “…all his life she had been there, like coiled smoke from a campfire…”
Without preaching Footy Dreaming exposes the foolishness of bigotry, cultural or otherwise, in such a clever and simple way.
Let me quote from the novel. The build up to this scene is Noah, an Aboriginal teenager, has had vile cultural slurs thrown at him during a match, often called sledging and more often dismissed as ‘part of the game’ and people should get over it. His friend Ben asks him at one point:
“Y’know, like when Elliot called ya…”
“A dirty black etcetera. Yeah, what that about?”
“Well – you can tell me to rack off if you like – but when he said that, I mean, what’s the difference to me bein’ called a ‘dirty green Martian’? It’s just part of the sledgin’, all that talkin’ crap that goes on in games. To get under your skin. My dad reckons it’s always been part of the game.”
Outside the pub, Noah’s dad’s mate was having his first ciggie of the day.
“You really wanna know? Because it’ll sound like crap to you.” Noah looked hard at Ben’s face and tried to gauge how fair dinkum he was. “Okay, then. It’s like this. You aren’t a green Martian. But I am black. When someone says what he said, he’s insulting my people and … and our families … and our culture. Trouble is, guys like Elliot think that if you’re black, you’re a piece of crap. If he called me a green Martian why would I give a crap?”
There were times this novel literally brought me to tears, it truly touched me so deeply and the above is a perfect example of simple words to explain what many excuse as matters to complex to address.
There are other things I loved about this novel.
It’s not a war and peace epic so it will not only appeal to a younger reader but a time poor reader. Ideal for train trips, lunch breaks and so on.
It’s been written in two teenage boy’s POV’s which is rare and is wrapped up in a sporting world, so it will appeal to male teens and tweens not so keen on reading.
It makes no apologies for being written by an Australian author or set in Australia. By that I mean it uses Australian language and terms. The author doesn’t explain ‘the G’ (although I’m sure everyone will be able to work it out), doesn’t explain TAFE, or 5 k’s. Michael Hyde doesn’t try to be anything but an Australian writer and his characters and location have not been hybridised or bastardised to fit an ‘international’ need.
I thoroughly enjoy reading novels by US, Canadian and UK authors. I’m a big fan of many classics and I accept and reflect on the cultural atmosphere of the characters within. I don’t expect US author’s to ‘select’ their words/phrases and I want to see this happen (or not happen) more often with Australian authors.
And did I mention its brilliantly written?
Finally, I’m about to end on a potentially touchy subject. There has been a lot written, blogged, vlogged and generally expressed, mostly from the US, about referring to someone’s skin as a food, or food colour. I know many people in the US find this offensive. And I accept this. Just as I accept that serving staff in the US need to get a 20% tip to live, while people in Australia don’t need or expect the same.
While many countries speak English, it is widely accepted that English varies from country to country. US English is vastly different to UK or Australian English. However, sometimes people forget various English speaking countries are also socially diverse. What works in the US may not work in New Zealand. And so it is with references to skin tone and foods.
I mention this mostly for my US readers. There is a line on page 38 when (Aboriginal) Noah is admiring an Aboriginal girl in his class called Millie and refers to her skin being like ‘dipped in chocolate’ – While some US readers may think this inappropriate, Australian culture and readers would see this as a beautiful description. And if in doubt, my US friends, of our differences, I often suggest people google what the Aussie slang for ‘fanny’ as in ‘fanny-bag’ means here.
Footy Dreaming will be available as of May 1st 2015 through Ford Street Publishing. For my part I’ll be giving this 4.5 stars on Amazon & Goodreads when I can and I will 100% getting more Michael Hyde novels!
And one final mention. If you happen to live in Melbourne (or are visiting) on May 1st, Ford Street Publishing will be having the official launch party & I know if you contact Paul Collins at Ford Street or via the Ford Street Facebook Page, you will be more than welcome to attend… and get your own copy of Footy Dreaming signed by Michael 🙂
You can find out more about Michael and Ford Street Publishing here:
& you’ll find Michael and Ford Street Publishing both on Facebook also 🙂