What made you decide to write from a male teen perspective?
Several things really. The fact that I was teaching in an all boys’ college was a major influence on Boofheads. I wanted to write a book about friendship from a male perspective. I think there are a lot of books out there about friendship for girls but not so many for boys.
In addition my only child is a boy who has grown up with twin mates since they were three. Many of my friends have sons and my sister has two boys. I seem to be around males a lot.
What were the main challenges in writing in that voice?
Keeping Tommo’s thoughts masculine but still sounding sensitive to suit his characteristics. His dialogue was easy for me. His thoughts were much harder because though he is a fairly sensitive, thoughtful boy but he couldn’t be allowed to express his thoughts in a way that was too emotional. Fortunately my editor, Sue Whiting kept me right there.
There aren't many YA books that I have read that feature the relationship between a teenage boy and his mother. What was your motivation in having Tom and his mother's interactions be key to the narrative?
I didn’t do this deliberately at all. It just happened. I wrote the kind of relationship I’d like to have with a teenage son but tried to be realistic about how each character’s flaws would impact on this.
She’s not very maternal and quite selfish when it comes to having her own space. He thinks he knows it all. But they share a lovely sense of humour and respect, and when push comes to shove, her role is very defined in the relationship. She is never tempted to be his friend first and a mother second. She’s always his MUM! In the end this is exactly what he needs from her. She’s an atypical mum whose balance of indulgence and authority have raised a smart alec who still needs his mum in the end.
What has been the reaction of your former students to the novel?
‘Am I in there?’
‘Can I be in the next one?’
‘That was really good.’
‘That was funny.’
And a general sense of shock that their year coordinator to whom they were reported for sometimes using bad language had used bad language.
There is a party scene where Tom has to make a choice - what motivated that scene and how difficult was it to write?
The whole party scene was motivated by my experience that boys that age often make split second decisions. The consequences are often entirely based on luck. They make these decisions under the influence of drugs or alcohol for the dumbest reasons. The party scene was a combination of wrong and right decisions being made by people who were really all quite good at heart. Even the 20 year-olds were just young silly guys propelled by drink and peer pressure. Nothing too drastic happens just like at most teenage parties today, but it could have.
The hardest part about the series of scenes that made up the party was getting location right in my head. I had to rewrite the rose garden scene several times because the garden kept changing in my head.
When you were a teen, would you have been interested in Tommo, Ed or Casey?
Definitely Ed. The boys on the cover were actually three boys whom I’ve never met but were neighbours of my editor. Turns out one of their mothers taught my son in Year 3. I digress but those models were exactly right for the characters. The colour shots of them were fantastic. I would be in love with all three of them if I was a teenager again. In my head, as you look at the cover, Ed’s on the left, Tommo has the direct gaze in the middle and Casey is on the right.
As their adult ‘mother’, I don’t worry about Ed. I think he’ll be a great adult. I am excited to think about what Tommo might go on to do with his life. He has so much potential as a leader. Casey worries me. I fear he may become a tragic statistic some day but I think if he gets through his early 20s he’ll be fine.
What is your next project?
Something More will be released on March 31st. It’s # 11 in A&U’s Girlfriend Fiction series.
I have a picture book called Noah’s Garden coming out with Walker Books later this year or early next.
My next YA novel is called the Coast Watcher. I’ll be working more on that later in the year when I take up the May Gibbs Children’s Literature trust fellowship in Brisbane in October.
In between writing short books and articles for the Education Press I am currently writing the biography of Olympic and Commonwealth marathon runner Kerryn McCann, who died of cancer last December. Kerryn was my friend and we had been working on the book for several months before she died.