'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 11 July 2010

Author Interview: Doug MacLeod

Today, we're having a bit of fun with Doug MacLeod, author of a number of funny young adult novels. You can check out his work at his website, dougmacleod.com.au.

To give our readers a little warning, you’re a self-confessed liar; do you enjoy lying in interviews, or just in your books? I don’t lie in interviews unless requested to do so. I’ll be one hundred percent truthful.

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? I was born in Melbourne. Dad moved about a bit for work so I ended up going to six different schools. I started my secondary education at a really bad school in Morwell, but ended up at a really good one in Melbourne.

I got into law at Melbourne University because my friends were doing it and it seemed the right thing to do. But I didn’t like it at all. I’m not proud of dropping out so early in the course and certainly do not wear it like a badge of honour. When I found out that there was a three year writing course at the drama school of The Victorian College of Arts, I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted. It was a good course, but sadly it no longer exists.

I got a job in ABC radio shortly afterwards, with the Comedy Unit. That also doesn’t exist anymore. After that, I became the dramaturg in residence at Playbox Theatre Company, which sort of still exists, then spent fourteen years working fulltime in TV.

I quit TV at 42 to write young adult novels. I’ve written six so far. I don’t count My Extraordinary Life and Death. That was just a bit of fun. Nevertheless, please buy it.

What made you decide to become a writer? I always wanted to be a professional writer. When I was a kid, I didn’t know anybody who was a writer, so I’m not sure where that desire came from. Maybe it’s because my dad was so good at reading to us when we were young. He made the books seem special.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? No. If you go to my website you can see the first poem I ever wrote. It’s horrible. I don’t remember my first story, but it would have had monsters.

What genre do you write in? Semi-realistic young adult, hopefully funny.

What other genres have you written in? Fantasy, historical fiction, verse, ads for airlines.

What do you love about writing for kids? It’s good exercise for the imagination.

How did you dream up the story for My Extraordinary Life and Death? It was meant to be a serious blog for the Youth Literature Centre at the State Library of Victoria, but I got bored with it (so did my readers) so I downloaded some old copyright-free pictures from the Project Gutenberg website and made up captions that were supposed to describe my tragic life. People seemed to like it.

It looks like a fun book to create; were you cracking up the whole time you were writing it? Everyone has their own sense of humour and everybody’s is different. I put together what I thought was exactly the right assortment of funny pictures and captions, but a lot of people had different ideas about what was funny and what wasn’t. We lost some stuff that I thought was strong, but only about four pages or so. All the rejected stuff (there’s quite a lot of it) is on the website.

Is it true that you didn’t want My Extraordinary Life and Death to be published at first? Yes. I didn’t think it would hold up as a book. But Paul Collins at Ford Street was very persuasive. Then I got on really well with the designer, Grant Gittus, and loved all his ideas for the book. I’m happy with the result.

Have you experienced any major blocks or obstacles on your book-writing journey? When I’m not writing books I’m usually writing TV scripts. I’ve never really suffered writer’s block, though earlier this year I did write one novel that wasn’t good, because I hadn’t thought of an interesting enough story. I suppose that’s just as bad as writer’s block.

You’ve written a stack of books; which is your favourite? It’s very hard to choose. At the moment I quite like my historical novel, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, probably because it’s just come out. Another book you must buy.

Who is your greatest role model? This is hard too. I don’t really have a role model. I do admire a lot of writers. But I also admire the scientist Nikola Teslar, not only for being brilliant, but also for being brave.

What’s a typical writing day? A good one starts at 7.00am and winds up around 4.00pm.

What advice do you have on writing? Do other stuff as well. Get out of the house. Exercise. And read a lot.

What were your favourite books as a child? I used to read a lot of science fiction. I really loved the tripod books by John Christopher, and felt a bit cheated when I read The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells and realised that Christopher had nicked the tripods from this classic.

What else do you like to do, other than write books? I like to watch movies, swim, ride a bike … nothing out of the ordinary. I really should take up a quirky hobby so that I can mention it in interviews like this. My parents have some very quirky hobbies. I’ll have to borrow a few.

What would be your perfect day? Being on a tropical island while winning several book awards.

What’s next for Doug MacLeod? There’s another YA novel coming out from Penguin next year. It’s got very big cockroaches in it, but it isn’t a comedy. I’ve recently finished work on series two of the fantastic animated TV show, Dogstar. Philip Dalkin and I write all the episodes. So far there have been fifty-two. I’d love to do a third series.

Have any of these answers been true? All of them. One hundred percent. Maybe ninety-five.

See our review of Doug MacLeod's My Extraordinary Life and Death.