Here’s an interview on the writing of my newly released book, Nit Boy, two books in one, illustrated by superstar illustrator, Heath McKenzie. (By the way, I have no idea why I’m trying to eat the book, above.)
This wide-ranging interview covers my connection to the story, my favourite food, my most embarrassing moment, how I started writing for kids, the best and worst moments of my life, what I’m writing next and I address the persistent questions about the time I went to the movies with the queen.
Why write about nits?
Why not write about nits? Nits are amazing. We’ve wiped out so many species on earth but we can’t get rid of these microscopic mini-beasts feasting on our kids’ scalps. They’re like thousands of mini bloodsucking Voldemorts.
Have you ever had nits?
Yup. I remember the bad old days of nit shampoo. I’m scarred for life. But that was back when shampoos worked. In the last twenty years nits have come a long way. Kids now are dealing with intergalactic super nits that cannot be stopped.
Did you ever know anyone like Lewis in Nit Boy?
All of my characters are me in some way. Even the nits. Lewis hates the hairdresser like I despised the dentist. I used to bolt from the chair and take off up the path, mother and drill-wielding dentist in hot pursuit.
Lewis is kind of weird, too. He’s a regular kid but he’s weird. And we all feel weird sometimes. I always tried to use my disadvantages to my advantage and that’s what Lewis does with his nits. Having the worst case of nits in human history actually gives him power in the playground.
Do you have any pets?
A dog named Bear. But my old golden labrador-retriever, Boston, features in Nit Boy as a chocolate lab. I needed his fur to be dark so it’d be harder for the nits who land on him to make their way through the forest. If you haven’t read the book yet, that probably sounds a bit weird. It is.
Not soggy Weet Bix. Just had some. Very bad. You know when you leave it just that second too long to eat them? Crispy. Crispy. Crispy. D’oh. Soggy. Nuts. I like sushi a lot. And tacos. And Barbecue Shapes.
I liked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and My Side of the Mountain as a kid, anything to do with escaping society. I loved Roald Dahl, too. I like The Bugalugs Bum Thief and Dave Metzenthen’s The Really, Really High Diving Tower. I think Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys books are excellent.
Blue. Always has been.
What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?
I once walked into my sister’s garage in the dark with bare feet and trod in dog poo. I screamed and took another step and trod in another giant pile with the other foot. It squished up between my toes. That was pretty bad.
What’s the best?
I once went on a date to the movies with the Queen. It was the royal gala movie premiere at the Odeon in London’s Leicester Square. She was late, as usual. But she looked beautiful. Old, but beautiful. There was no kissing involved. I did try to hold hands but security stopped me. All right, maybe it wasn’t officially a ‘date’. She was sitting two rows in front of me and she may not have known that I was in the room but, to me, it was like we were the only two people there.
Do you like nits?
Are you kidding? What’s not to like? Nits are like pets. In tough economic times who can afford dog food? Nits feed themselves. They just stab their little beaks in and start sucking. They’re very loyal. They love being on our heads. You never need to pay for vet visits. No collar, no tags, no expensive operations. They don’t get fleas. They’re self-sufficient. We supply the blood and they do the rest. And how many other pets can you take with you to the movies? And into national parks? And to school?
What’s your favourite bug?
I’ve become so close to Ned (the nit) that I’d feel like a traitor if I said anyone else. He really has become like a member of the family.
Do you prefer writing to acting?
I like that writers can work in their pyjamas. Whereas actors have to wait for a night-time scene for that opportunity. I like that you don’t have to wear make-up as a writer. I like that writers never have to get up at 4 am and get thrown into the deep ocean and float there for five hours while 72 shots are filmed. But the catering isn’t as good for a writer. No banana muffins. No big icy jugs of orange cordial.
Most embarrassing moment?
I used to have this recurring nightmare where I was at school, doing a play and, at the end, the crowd was going wild, laughing, screaming, cheering and I was lapping it up. Then I looked down and I was naked. Does everyone have this dream? No? Just me, huh? Wonder what it means. I don’t imagine it’s good.
What’s the best thing about writing for kids?
Writing for kids and teens, you have to keep it interesting. ‘Never Be Boring’ is the credo. I write what I find interesting, what excites me, what makes me laugh, and hopefully that enthusiasm is channelled directly into the reader.
How did you come to write for kids?
I was writing about the film industry. I love movies. I was interviewing actors and directors who inspired me. Then I was approached about being part of a children’s book series and I’ve never looked back. Greatest job in the world. Apart from astronaut. And garbage collector. I hear they get paid very well.
Have you ever written a book for adults? If not, might you?
Not yet. I’d like to. I’ve made short films and TV for adults. Right now all my ideas are for kids, though. I’ve got to grow up. But don’t hold your breath.
Are any of your books being turned into movies?
Two Wolves and the Tom Weekly series are currently being developed for TV. It’s fun working with screenwriters in a writers’ room to develop the shows.
What’s your next book after Nit Boy going to be?
My great-great-uncle, Jimmy Bancks, created a comic strip called Ginger Meggs in 1921. It’s the longest- running comic strip in Australian history. In 2021 it’s the 100th anniversary and, to celebrate, I’m writing a special hardback edition of Ginger Meggs short stories. It will be illustrated by current Ginger Meggs artist, Jason Chatfield, and released by Penguin in about May 2021.
You can discover more about Nit Boy here.
You can order the book into your local bookstore, buy it online here.
Or order a signed copy through my online store here.