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Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman was born in Lincolnshire and moved to Australia in his teens. He worked as a paperboy, a shelf-stacker, a frozen chicken de-froster, an assistant to a fashion designer and more before taking a degree in Professional Writing at Canberra College and becoming a writer. He has written for TV, stage, newspapers and magazines but is best-known for his hugely succesful children's books including Two Weeks with the Queen, Bumface and Once.


Australia in 1969 when he was 16 years old

LIVES: Victoria, Australia

ANT My favourite insect. I like the way they work together to build things bigger than themselves. They're a bit like the letters of the alphabet, which are my favourite communication tools. Pictures are great, rubber chooks on sticks can be very effective, but I reckon you can't beat those 26 top little letters. You can build anything with them. Words. Sentences. 500 page books about ants. They're particularly good when authors want to reveal personal things about themselves on posters.

BUM One of my favourite words. Sounds good, looks good and has heaps of uses. I've always wanted to use it in a title and I've finally managed to in Bumface. I'm glad, because as a writer I owe a lot to my bum. It's supported me in my work for years. Rumour has it that "bum" was the first word I ever said. When I realised the big house I was being photographed in front of didn't belong to my parents

CONSTANTINOPLE Not all my favourite words are short. I've never been to Constantinople but the word makes it sound like a fascinating place, probably with great bookshops. I feel the same way about Gdansk, Alberquerque, Beijing and The Maldives. For me, imagination is one of the best ways to travel, plus the food's usually pretty good. When I was little I set out to ride my bike to Constantinople. I didn't get past the end of the driveway because someone pointed out I was wearing completely the wrong hat for that part of the world.

DOPEY One of the great words. But then I would think that because it's my nickname. Only five letters, but it can mean so much. Such as 'you've forgotten the luggage, left the toaster on at home and just driven the car into quicksand but we forgive you.'

EDISON RD. Where I grew up in South-east London, and my starting-off point for the Constantinople trip. A very nice little street with a hill, four bus stops and a big lump of green bubblegum on the footpath outside number 84. One of my childhood hobbies was sweeping our street and storing the dirt in the backyard. I spent weeks trying to shift that bubblegum. I gave up and went to live in Sydney, then Canberra, France and Melbourne. I don't sweep streets any more. I've given up bubblegum too.

FATTY The name of a very funny jewel thief in the first story that really got me hooked. Our wonderful English teacher, Mr Walsh, spent every lesson for two tears telling us that story. The amazing thing was, he appeared to be making it up as he went along. It was very inspiring for me. While I listened I decided I wanted to spend my life either making up stories or stealing jewels.

GOBBLEDEGOOK What we usually end up with when we use long words to try to sound important or hide what we really mean. I was waiting for a plane once, and there was an airport announcement. They were experiencing, they said, an 'unserviceability problem'. What they meant was 'the plane's broken and we can't fix it'. I always advise beginning writers to stick mostly to the words they use when they talk to their friends. The trick is to bung them together in new and exciting ways.

HEROES I've thought a lot about heroes because every story is meant to have one. I get a bit bored with heroes who succeed at everything they do. You know, kill the baddies, save the world and get the breakfast things washed up before lunch. Success isn't the only way of being a hero in my opinion. Life is full of big problems that don't have easy solutions. The heroes in my books are kids who wrestle with these problems and don't give up, not even when they've run out of dishwashing liquid.

IDEAS Where do ideas come from, that's what everyone wants to know, including me. The closest I've come to figuring it out is this. I reckon we all have a rotary compost bin in our head. All our life's experiences - all the people we know, all the places we've been, all the books we've read, all the ants we've trained to juggle jelly babies, everything goes into the bin and mulches down into something rich and pongy and fertile. Our imagination sows seeds and ideas spring up in that compost between our ears. How do we get our imagination to sow the seeds? Lots of different ways, I daydream.

JACK HAMMER What people have to use to get my attention when I'm reading. Books are my hobby as well as my job. I loved reading so much at school that each year when it was time for the school photo I'd press down hard on the book I was in the middle of so it wouldn't fly away while I had my eyes off it.

KARRI One of my favourite trees. I like trees a lot, specially forests. I like them almost as much as mountains, oysters, jazz, red wine and stationery. My idea of a top day would be listening to Van Morrison in a forest halfway up a mountain with a glass of red wine in one hand and a plate of oysters in the other and 5,000 paper clips in my rucksack.

LISTS I make them all the time. Life doesn't seem so confusing and worrying if I make a list, even if it's just a list of the things that are confusing and worrying me. When people ask me how many books I've written, I hand them a list. Here it is ....

MONEY Sometimes people ask me which of the books I've written is my favourite. I used to say "my latest one, of course, nine dollars ninety-five at all good bookshops". Nowadays I'm more honest. I admit that my favourite is Two Weeks With The Queen, partly because it was the most powerful and moving writing experience I've had, and partly because it's earned me more money than any of my other books. I'm grateful to it for that. I write stories not only because I need to and love to, but also to pay my bills. Big staplers aren't cheap, even in bulk.

NEAT I am neat. And tidy. I keep all my white shirts on white hangers and all my black shirts on black hangers. The trouble with being that tidy is that you get nervous about things that aren't tidy. Like feelings. Writing stories, I used to try and keep my characters' feelings safely contained on each page inside those nice neat edges. But it didn't work. The feelings would spill out all over the place. I'd be sitting at my computer laughing and crying and hating and loving. Perhaps that's the real reason I need to write stories - to learn how to have messy feelings. I think it's working. I bought a blue shirt the other day and I've put it on a yellow hanger.

ORANG-OUTANG For some people, one of the hardest things about writing is worrying what other people are going to think. I know people who'd rather swap heads with an Indonesian tree-climbing ape in a crowded shopping centre than show anyone what they've written. I was a bit shy about showing people my writing when I was younger. How did I get over it? When I was 12 I used to put on my smartest clothes to give me confidence. And to remind myself that if people were too unkind about my writing, I could always go and live in a tent up a mountain for a few years.

PERSONAL Here are some personal details you may not know about me. Age: 45 in 1998. If you're reading this in later years, please consult the following list: 1999-46, 2000-47, 2001-48, 2002-49, 2003-50. Beyond that I might start ageing more than one year every twelve months. Born: 9th January 1953 in a small English town called Selford. My family was actually from London, but Mum and Dad were living in Lincolnshire because Dad was in the air force and Cranwell RAF base was nearby. He left the air force a year or so after I was born. Rumours it was because my crying was drowning out the noise of the planes are not true. Glasses prescription: Right eye, 1.00, 0.25x30. Left eye, 2.25 SPH. How to say Gleitzman: Gleit rhymes with bite and height. Height: 185.42 centimetres when I'm not standing on my books. Underpants: Blue boxers with yellow penguins on them.

QUINCE A yellow fruit that looks like a big pear and tastes very sour unless you cook it with a lot of sugar. The other night I dreamt I was eating one raw. Anyone know what this could mean? Dreams are stories trying to get out. I've often found that if I go to sleep thinking about a problem I'm having with a story I'm trying to write, I'll wake up in the morning with the problem solved. My favourite dream is being able to fly. My worst dream is anything involving spiders that can fit birds into their mouths.

ROYALTIES One of my very favourite words. It's the part of the price of a book that's paid to an author. Usually it's 10 per cent, sometimes 12.5 per cent, which for me works out at about a dollar a book. So if you ever go into a bookshop and buy 1000,000 copies of one of my books, I'll be delighted and quite comfortably off. (Let me know and I'll help you carry them home.) I like the fact that Two Weeks With The Queen is the book that's earned me the most royalties.

STICKY cranky cockatoo with a crook temper. Sticky Beak was the first one of my books to have a pet as a major character. This was mostly because when I was a kid all my pets died of mysterious diseases. Mice, hamsters, lizards - I fed and looked after them, but it was no good. Sooner or later there'd be another burial out the back. Our yard had more bumps in it than a supermarket carpark. So I was very relieved at the end of the book that Sticky was still alive and insulting people. Next I put a dog in Puppy Fat and it survived too. Then I wrote Water Wings and poor old Winston the guinea pig wasn't so lucky. At least he got to spend some extra time in the house. When I was a kid we didn't have a freezer.

UMBRELLA When I was 14, I left an umbrella in a cake shop. And just a few days after decided to be a writer instead of a professional soccer player. (I decided my legs were more suited to writing.) I've never written about me forgetting umbrellas because I prefer to make up the things that happen in my books. I think Angus losing his younger brother and sister in Bumface is more interesting than me losing an umbrella But the parts of my books, I don't make up are the character's feelings. I don't know how to make feelings up. I can only write about the feelings I have. So when Angus realises Immie and Leo are gone, I thought about how I feel when I realise an umbrella is gone. Then I made Angus's feelings about a hundred times stronger. (You can always buy a new umbrella.)

THANKS! I'd like to take a moment here to say thanks to Mr Williams, my year six teacher, for helping me to learn about comedy. Up until then I hadn't really understood what it was, and I had no idea how useful it could be in writing stories. Mr Williams changed all that with one end-of-year report. Notice how he comments on my weak spelling while simultaneously getting the spelling of my first name wrong. Life's full of moments like that and I love using them in stories. Watch out for some next time you read one of my books. Thanks Mr W!

VIDEO A while ago a video was made about me and my work called The Morris Gleitzman Video. In it I show how I develop my ideas into books and what happens after I start writing. The video shows lots of things I haven't got room to include here, like me having some of my best ideas in the shower and how you can learn a lot about writing stories from a bowl of Chinese pig's intestine soup. Your school might have a copy. Ask your teacher or librarian. If your school would like to buy a copy, your teacher or librarian can get more information from Insight Profile in Australia on fax 612 9956 6789 or e-mail

X-RAYS I think stories are a bit like x-rays. They show us what's happening inside people. Not to their blood and bones and spleens. To their hopes and fears and feelings. And ours. I reckon stories should be available on the NHS. Stories can also reveal that beneath our skin are all the people we've been in the past. For example, inside me somewhere is the 20-year-old Morris Gleitzman who spent three years at the Canberra College Of Advanced Education doing a course called Professional Writing and trying to find a shampoo with a built-in conditioner.

YOU You can write too. You don't have to be a professional writer to get good things from it. And who know's? If you develop your skill, your books could end up next to mine on the book shelves. (Particularly if your name's Gleitzbucket.) I hope your writing efforts reward you in all sorts of ways. Good Luck!

WILLIAM My favourite books when I was a kid were the William books written by Richmal Crompton. William is the funniest, naughtiest, messiest, most likeable character I've ever read. I think there's a bit of William in most of my characters. The William books are a bit old-fashioned now, but they're very funny and worth a look. Your library might have some.

ZZZZ That's me daydreaming about all the books I haven't written yet. I spend a lot of time daydreaming. It's one of the ways I get ideas and it's one of the reasons I like being a writer. I also like being a writer because it's one of the few jobs you can do at home in your pyjamas. You're indoors a lot, but it's never boring because you get out a lot in your imagination. I've spent days breaking into Buckingham Palace (Two Weeks With The Queen), giving a guinea pig a Viking funeral (Water Wings), shaving all my hair off (The Other Facts Of Life), stealing a stuffed horse (Second Childhood) and carrying out a pirate raid on a school (Bumface) - all without leaving my chair. I can't wait to see where I go next.

Meet Morris Gleitzman - friend to toads and other slimy creatures

You were born in Lincolnshire, do you go back there often and are you a fan of the sausages?
Haven't been back for years. I live in hope that Penguin will send me there to research a semi-autobiographical novel about a boy who moved away from Lincolnshire when he was one and a half and therefore only got to eat the sausages in pureed form.

You moved to Australia as a teenager, did you have trouble understanding the accent?
Not really. 'Actually Morris, we Aussies tend not to wear kangaroo-skin underwear but don't worry, it looks very nice on you' sounds the same in any language, doesn't it?

What is it like working with Paul Jennings - do you two muck around and have lots of fun?
Heaps of fun, and only a few arguments. We've done most of our writing via email, so when we get cross with each other we take it out on each other's characters. That's why Wicked and Deadly are so full of peril and danger. And jokes and friendship.

We heard a rumour that you like corned beef - why?!
I was a very neat kid and I loved the idea of square meat - same shape as the bread. In Australia, corned beef is very different - great slabs of cow bum preserved in salty water. Totally irregular in shape and really untidy in a sandwich. Yuk.

Who do you support when England play Australia at sport?
Ireland. I close my eyes and try to imagine whatever Ireland are playing at the time. Even lawn bowls will do. Anything to save me from feeling torn in two. I pray for the day England play Australia at something and they both win. Or both lose, even that would be a relief.

Your books have really cool titles - what comes first, the title or the book?
The book. I try not to worry about the title and it usually comes to me by halfway through the writing. I used to try and get the title first, which meant that the first 20,000 words of each book were often all titles.

What's Christmas like Down Under - is it a barbie on the beach?
Not for me. I don't really like beaches in summer. It's usually so hot there's a fire-ban so barbies are out. On Christmas Day I like lying with my head in the fridge reading a book. Or a milk carton if Santa was feeling stingy.

Why did you write about toads?
I wanted to write about us humans through non-human eyes, and I also wanted to write a character that everyone would find repulsive because of the way he looked and see if I could get readers to fall in love with him despite this. I made a list all the most unpopular creatures and insects in Australia - crocodiles, slugs, mosquitos, wild pigs, head lice - and cane toads seemed the most interesting. I'd met some years earlier when I worked in a sugar mill during university holidays and I'd never forgotten how charming and sophisticated they really are. And great fun in a mud fight.

 What's next for you?
I've just finished Toad Away, which sees Limpy, Goliath and Charm go to the Amazon rainforest looking for their relatives and hopefully the ancient secret of living in peace with humans. Now I'm working on Girl Underground, a companion book to Boy Overboard. It's about a girl who risks everything to free some imprisoned children, and makes her Dad very cross.

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