One of Australia's, and now the world's, best-known and loved children's authors, Morris Gleitzman tackles tough subjects in a funny and offbeat way . He has never set out to write "issues books" and says that his writing is as much for himself as for his readers.
Born: Sleaford, Lincolnshire, January 9th 1953
Jobs: Paperboy, Shelf-Stacker, Department Store Santa Claus, Frozen Chicken Defroster, Assistant to Fashion Designer, Rolling-Stock Unhooker in a Sugar Mill, TV Comedy Writer, Magazine Columnist
First Book: The Other Facts of Life, 1985
When the Gleitzman family left England for Australia, 16 year-old Morris had already dropped out of school to live the hippie dream. Once in Sydney, he embarked on a series of "fairly menial things" (see above) before cramming his A-level equivalents into a year and gaining a degree in Professional Writing at Canberra College of Advanced Education. He joined ABC TV as a promotions writer, but soon began writing comedy scripts for the top-rated Norman Gunston Show. Morris became one of Australia's best known TV writers and went on to write a number of feature films and TV screenplays. These included The Other Facts of Life, originally written as a film for the Children's Television Foundation. When Morris decided to write a novel version of this, his publishing career began. The cross-fertilisation between scripts and novels continued (in reverse) with Morris' second novel Two Weeks With The Queen. This was adapted into a play and successfully staged around the world (In 1995, Alan Ayckbourn directed the London production at the National Theatre). With two novels in print, Morris says "I began to see myself as an author." Already, the hallmarks of a Gleitzman novel were in place - tough subjects presented in a funny and offbeat way. Those characteristics run through all of Gleitzman's work, from Misery Guts and Second Childhood, to Bumface and Wicked! – the multi-part novel Morris wrote jointly with Australia's other top children's author Paul Jennings. The prolific Mr Gleitzman has also become one of Australia's best-known columnists, writing firstly TV reviews and then a semi-autobiographical column for the Sydney Morning Herald; UK readers have enjoyed a taste of these writings in Young Telegraph.
WHAT HE SAYS...
"My stories are about relationships between kids and adults marked by love, conflict and anxiety. The characters reflect different parts of my own self. I was an anxious younger person, given to panic attacks. Writing comic scripts helped, but it was when I allowed myself to speak through my 11 and 12 year-old characters that I felt as though I had discovered a process that made me feel good about life."
"My books are co-written by me the adult and me the child and, as always happens between adults and children, there is a conflict there and my books are very much the product of that conflict."
"Perhaps (the) combination of serious subject and sadness and humour may come from the fact that I'm looking for the moment that is the biggest problem in the character's life."
"I’m interested in exploring a heroism that's about perseverence, not escaping or denial or bitterness or bigotry. It's the heroism of staying optimistic and continuing to struggle. Heroism for me is striving to overcome problems in the knowledge that they may never be overcome."
"I can't remember much of my childhood. Just the best bits (books, corned beef and scoring goals) and the worst bits (sties, rhubarb and a stiff hamster)."
"I read every book I could get my hands on. Classics, westerns, Enid Blyton, soccer star biographies, Richmal Crompton's Just William series (my favourites) and recipe books (particularly the corned beef sections)."
"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 5000 paper clips in my rucksack."
"Sometimes I think 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."
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT MORRIS GLEITZMAN...
"A master of the tragicomic novel." Books For Keeps
"Morris Gleitzman has written some of the best children's books around." Young Telegraph
“Joyfully entertaining… this is Gleitzman’s best yet.” TES on Bumface
“This is one of the funniest, most original novels young people over 10 are ever likely to encounter.” Tony Bradman, Daily Telegraph
“Boys coping is a rare enough theme; Morris Gleitzman treats it with intelligent and tender insight.” Julia Eccleshare, The Guardian on Bumface
“Morris Gleitzman’s latest is a winner…Bumface is the most funny, truthful and affecting book I’ve read for some time. I began it with delight and finished it laughing aloud. It’s a joy.” Philip Pullman, The Guardian
“Funny and poignant at the same time… its opening scene deserves to become an instant classic.” Nick Tucker, The Independent on Bumface
"Behind the slapstick humour, lots of profound and important issues are also explored." Northern Echo on The Other Facts of Life
"Very funny." Sainsbury's The Magazine on The Other Facts of Life
"A gem of a book, very Australian (embarrassingly un-British) in its wide-open emotions." The Guardian on Two Weeks With The Queen
"An extraordinary read with a joyous ending of sorts." The Listener on Two Weeks With The Queen
"To write a funny book which includes a child dying of cancer and a youth of AIDS looks to be not only impossible but in dubious taste as well. Gleitzman shows otherwise." The Times on Two Weeks With The Queen
"Consistently amusing." Junior Bookshelf on Worry Warts
"Misery Guts is a thoroughly enjoyable read." School Librarian
"They zip along at breakneck speed, cliff-hanger following gobsmacking shock and on to the next cliff-hanger, leaving the reader breathless and wanting more of the same, please." Publishing News on the Wicked! series
To find out more about Morris and his books go to www.morrisgleitzman.com
PLACE OF BIRTH:
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 email@example.com.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.