How did Dirt Bomb come about?
Dirt Bomb came about because my nephew Tim and his mates found an old Holden and revived it enough to drive around a paddock. I wrote a junior novel several years ago called Driving A Bargain – inspired by a different nephew who thrashed an old Morrie thou around their farm. That car would only go in first gear.
The book focuses on teenage boys. What did you do to ensure you captured their voice accurately/authentically?
It’s tricky as you can’t use slang that’s of the moment because it dates so quickly. You have to aim for the flavour of the language by listening and keeping your ears open.
You used the experiences of your nephew to help write this book. Did he ever encourage you to get in his paddock basher? If yes, what was it like? If not, what experiences did you call on to get the adrenaline-rush feeling that you must get blasting round a field in a paddock basher?
Tim’s old Holden was well dead by the time I wrote the story. I don’t have any adrenalin filled experiences of my own to call on, being a complete wimp! It’s more a matter of digging deep and getting into the mind set I think.
It is also up with the times – Jake uses Google a lot, mobile phones are the norm for most characters, etc. However the themes are also universal teenage boy themes and will remain so for a long time. When you were writing Dirt Bomb did you consider how it might date and what steps did you take to minimise this while still keeping it current?
I think a contemporary book set in the real world is always going to date and there’s not much you can do to counteract that except keep references to cell phones, computers etc fairly generic. You can say things like ‘he listened to music,’ rather than saying he used his i–pod, for example. Fashion is another thing that changes quickly, so again it’s best to keep that vague rather than detailed.
I count up 10 times you have been at least short-listed for the New Zealand Post Book Awards, including 2012 with Dirt Bomb. What do you think makes your books so popular with judges and young adults alike?
I really try not to think about that, but just to write a story that I find involving and enjoy living with as I write.
When asked what is the most important thing a budding writer can do to improve their writing, many authors suggest reading as much as possible and/or keeping a journal or ideas notebook on hand at all times. Diana Menefy and Janine McVeagh have also suggested revising and rewriting. Besides these excellent suggestions what would be your top tip for writing students?
Give yourself time. Don’t expect a first draft to be perfect. Finish it, put it away for a week and then come back to work on it. Leaving that space lets you get a perspective on it and it’s much easier to see where you can strengthen it. The main thing though, is to enjoy your writing.
What writing project are you working on in 2012?
I’ve just finished a contemporary book called The Boy in the Olive Grove. It’s due out in September. What next? Don’t know yet!
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