|Felice with some young fans - not my students, alas! I wish!|
Again, some of my students have interviewed fabulous Aussie writers, as part of their Literature Circles response (There will be another three!). First cab off the rank is delightful writer Felice Arena, who has written many books for young people.
Specky Magee is the hero of a series of hugely popular novels by Felice and his schoolfriend, footy player Garry Lyon . In the first one, which the above students have read recently, Specky can't help wondering if he has been adopted. He's the only member of the family who is at all interested in football, which he plays brilliantly. And what about that photo of him as a baby, dressed in Geelong football team colours?
Let's take a look at Felice's answer to questions from some of his young fans!
1. What inspired this novel? Why did you choose to write a novel about football?
I was living overseas when the idea of Specky Magee came to me. Specky was born out of nostalgia. I was missing home, particularly my childhood years. Football was, and still is for many people, the dominant language in Australia (yes, I call it a language) – especially in Victorian country towns - where I grew up.
Many of the footy clubs in regional communities are more than just a place to play a game – they were a kind of social hub. Even if you weren’t into footy, it was hard not to be a part of it in some way. When I returned from overseas I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of fiction about Aussie Rules for kids; there were plenty of nonfiction fact- and record-type books, but nothing that used our national game as a backdrop to deeper and heartier stories. I had often wondered what it would be like to see the world of football through the eyes of an up-and-coming footy champion – or any elite sporting champion for that matter.
Someone who had made that journey and lived in that world was my friend and AFL legend Garry Lyon. So when we ran into each other after I returned from overseas in the late 90s, I shared my idea of writing about a young footballer named Specky and asked if he might want to be involved in the process. He did, and not just in a tokenistic way – he was very eager to contribute to the writing and help make Specky real. And that was more than fine by me! Little did I know at the time that this was going to be one of the most rewarding, challenging, and ultimately enjoyable collaborations I’d ever been engaged in. Because of other commitments and schedules, Garry and I didn’t get around to actually writing the first Specky until two years after that first meeting. The good thing about this, though, was that we both had plenty of time to daydream and workshop storylines for Specky before we actually sat down and wrote the very first line.
How long did it take you to write Specky Magee?
Each Specky Magee book took just under a full year to produce: A couple of months to brainstorm and map out a skeletal storyline; three or four months to write the first draft; a month or two to work with our editor, Michelle, at Penguin publishers - she always had great advice on how to improve our story; and a couple of months to write a second, and if needed, a third draft.
Was there anything you thought of as you were writing, or any scenes you wrote, that didn’t end up in the book?
No. I don’t think so. We were lucky to be able to spend a lot of time on preparation and brainstorming of each book - to make each storyline super-tight and succinct.
Were there any stages in your writing when you wanted to quit?
No. There might’ve been a day or two, as with any job, when I didn’t feel like writing, but I never wanted to quit. If you feel like that when writing a book you probably shouldn’t be writing it.
Which team do you support in AFL? (Would it be Geelong, by any chance?)
Of course – “the greatest team of all!” I grew up in a family of die-hard Collingwood supporters – so please have some sympathy for me (cue the violins) – so it was tough to be the only Cats supporter in that bunch!
Did any of the things in the book happen to you or anyone you know? (Is any of the story based on real life?)
Specky’s character is definitely an amalgamation of Garry’s and my personalities - how could he not be? Also, one of Specky’s best mates, Danny Castellino, and his family are closely based on my big Italian family.
Do you have a favourite scene in the book?
In the very first book it would have to be when Specky discovers the photograph of himself as a baby dressed head-to-toe in footy clothing. ‘Why would Mum and Dad dress me up in footy gear if they hate footy so much?” This scene is a crucial scene in the book because it launches Specky on a life-changing journey, which continues over eight books.
How did you collaborate with Garry Lyon? For example, did you plan it together, write alternative chapters, have one write the first draft and the other the second? How did it work?
I recently gave a detailed answer to this question for another blog. And I don’t think I could better it here so… if you don’t mind, I’d like to direct you to that page:
Tell us about your newest book.
My latest project was a high-tech adventure series called Andy Roid. There are ten books all together. A radio announcer recently said: “Andy Roid is Iron Man meets James Bond… via Astro Boy. It’s pure high-adrenalin, superhero reading.” That pretty much sums it up.
Are you working on anything now?
Yes. I’m working on a series for beginning readers and also a ‘tweens’ novel heavily influenced by my days as a performer in West End musical theatre in London. But that’s another story… or at least another answer, for the next interview! ;-)
N.B., A revised edition (and new cover) of the first Specky Magee is due to be published March 2014 by Puffin Australia