Meet Phillip Gwynne!
Phillip Gwynne's first novel Deadly Unna? was the literary hit of 1998 winning Children's Book of the Year and selling over 200,000 copies. It was made into the feature film Australian Rules for which Phillip's screenplay won an AFI award in 2002.
What led you to a career in writing? Was writing something that you have always enjoyed?
I’ve always been a big reader, which was weird because I grew up in a house with no books! I guess I wrote at primary school but when I got to high school it didn’t seem like a very cool thing to do, especially not for somebody who was a football hero. It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties, after I’d tried just about everything else, that I decided to try writing again. And the result of that was Deadly Unna?
What were some of your favourite books when you were growing up?
I was a voracious reader, and would devour everything from the woman’s magazines my mum left in the toilet to footy records to comics.
There was a library in the little town I grew up that was open twice a week, on Saturday mornings and Wednesday night. I used to go there with my mum, because she was – and still is – a big reader. I don’t think they’d bought a new book in the last twenty years, so I used to read a lot of 'Biggles'. When I got to high school I was introduced to a whole new world of reading. Some of my favourite books were – and still are - Catcher In The Rye, The Great Gatsby, Catch-22 and anything by Steinbeck!
Do you have any other pastimes besides writing that you enjoy?
I’m a big believer in the credo of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ so I do a lot of exercise – swimming, walking, cycling, working out at the gym. Like most writers I know, I love to watch movies and TV series (but only on DVD because I can’t stand ads!). I am also a very keen photographer.
Who are some of your favourite authors and why?
The aforementioned Steinbeck. F Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway. Dickens. Dostoyevsky. Jane Austen. Orwell. I’ve always admired writers who are socially engaged, who provide insight into the society in which they live.Though having said that, Alice in Wonderland is definitely a top five book for me. I also love to read poetry, one or two poems a day. Just a short, sharp intake of meaning and beauty.
Do you have any quirky writing habits that you’d like to share with us?
I can listen to music quite loudly while I’m writing – something my wife still doesn’t understand!I wrote Take A Life, the last book of The Debt, which is 90,000 words long, in a six week burst while listening exclusively to Rage Against The Machine’s classic first album over and over again.
It’s brutal, incendiary music, an agonized cry against all the injustice in the world, and it absolutely suited the tone of the book.
What has been the most memorable experience of your writing career so far?
I could say the big stuff: winning awards, having a film at the Sundance film festival, but it’s actually the smaller things that stay in your memory, like being told by a teacher that Deadly Unna? was the only book her indigenous students read all year. Or, right now, there’s several kids who go to my daughter’s school in Bali, and are reading The Debt. Every time they see me they hassle me as to when the next book in the series is coming out. I know from talking to their parents that at least a couple of those kids haven’t been big readers, so for an author that is an incredibly exciting idea: that perhaps it’s your writing that’s going to provide a way for a kid to enter the extraordinary world of books and reading.
What can you tell us about in your new books in 'The Debt series'?
Why don’t I let somebody else tell you? From the website (www.thedebtbooks.com.au)
'When I first heard about The Debt, I was a bit, like I don't know if it will be up to standards next to Conspiracy 365. But boy, oh boy, was I wrong. I really loved how exhilarating of a read Catch the Zolt was. I work in a library 8 hours a week shelving books, but I spend lots of time in the bookstore talking to the staff. And occasionally giving people recommendation on books I love, and they should buy for themselves or their child or as a gift, and this series is definitely going to be on my list of good books, next to the CHERUB Series. I rate this series a 10/10!!!' - Jared, 16+
Can we look forward to more books in the series soon?
Yes, there are three more books in the series: Fetch The Treasure Hunter (June 2013), Yamashita’s Gold (September 2013), Take A Life (December 2013)
What kinds of themes or ideas are central to your work for children? Are there any particular messages that you want to get across?
My standard line is: if you want a message, check your email! And I believe it is the kiss of death for any book if a writer uses it as vehicle for some sort of message that they want to broadcast to the world. I believe that our job as writers of fiction is to entertain, to enthral, not to educate. Having said that, the sort of writing I attempt is socially engaged and because of that ‘themes’ will invariably arise. But they must result organically from the writing, from plot and from character, not the other way around.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer to aspiring writers?
I was 38 when I started writing, even though I have no doubt that it is what I was always meant to be.So why did it take me so long? Because I used to think too much about it. Because I didn’t get it down.So my advice to aspiring writers: get it down, get the words on the page. And once you’ve done that you can redraft, redraft and redraft.
The Debt is published by Allen & Unwin and instalments 1, 2 and 3 are now available through all good bookshops and online.