It’s no secret I live in a pretty creative part of the world. The Creative Business Women’s High Tea proved exactly that. So it’s no surprise there are also so many cultural attractions – Splendour In The Grass, Blues and Roots Festival, Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, Mullumbimby Music Festival…there’s at least something great on every month.
At the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival earlier this year, my highlight was the kid’s tent, and well-known children’s author Tristan Bancks was definitely the most entertaining act. My daughter spoke for weeks after about how a 12-year-old boy mad dessert on Tristan’s head. Elfie calls Tristan ‘the ice-cream man’, and took pictures of his performance to preschool for show and tell.
Tristan also lives on the North Coast NSW, and I am really amped to have him on the blog for Talk & Tea this morning.
Hi Tristan. Welcome to the Sunshine House! Would you like to tell us about how and why you came to write books for kids?
I have always acted, presented, written and researched TV, written for mags and newspapers and quite often this work was for kids and teens. After my son was born I heard about an opportunity to write for an educational children’s book series for Scholastic here and in the States. I pitched some ideas and they were accepted. It was a perfect way to fuse my personal life and my work. I wrote four very short non-fiction titles, loved it and, after that, wrote eight fictional books for Macmillan Education. I was then able to get a literary agent and pitch my first book for the Trade (bookstore) market.
Your book Two Wolves, was released this year, and is a hit with both young and adult readers. What inspired this story?
I read several real-life stories about kids who had been taken on the run with parents who had committed a crime and it intrigued me. There was something about the not-knowingness of it, the questing for answers for a child in that situation that resonated with me.
More than anything, I could feel the story almost from the beginning. I understood the tone of it, the smell of it, and getting down into that feeling-sense allowed me to pursue the story for the five years of its development. I don’t remember many moments of not enjoying the writing because I was doing it for myself, not knowing if I had the writing chops to pull it off.
Talking about inspiration, you also live on the North Coast of NSW. How does this region inspire your stories?
The Mac Slater books were set in Kings Bay which is based on Byron Bay. The My Life series is also based in Kings Bay, although a less alternative side of it. Two Wolves was set in locations inspired by Wilsons Creek, Byron Bay and the hinterland behind Nerang. I wrote a lot of the book while walking the beaches of Byron. There is something about writing outdoors with breeze and sunshine and ocean that breathes authenticity into the work.
When I heard you talking at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival earlier this year, you spoke about writing your book Two Wolves while walking up and down the beach. Is the beach the best place for you to write? What other quirky writing habits do you have?
I wrote a lot of it in Notes on the iPhone. I always feel inspired and free when I’m on the beach so it’s a great place for me to engage my sub-conscious, which is where the most inspiring stories live. I write wherever I can. The more imperfect the writing space the better in a way. I have always dreamed of building a writing studio but I know that I will hardly ever write in it. I need forward-motion and a constantly changing landscape to stay inspired. Here is a blog post on where I write: http://www.tristanbancks.com/2011/06/childrens-author-tristan-bancks-writers.html
Many of your stories are fun, as are your school talks. How important is humour when engaging young readers?
I think it’s essential when engaging humans in general but particularly useful with kids. Even more serious stories like Two Wolves need levity and a lightness of touch to counter the bigger ideas. I try to let that humour flow off the page and into my videos and talks and blog posts and other methods of bringing the stories to life.
Did you have a favourite book as a kid?
I loved Paul Jennings and a wilderness novel called My Side of the Mountain. I loved the William books, Judy Blume and Huckleberry Finn. Here’s a page with some lists of my fav books now and as a kid: http://www.tristanbancks.com/p/books.html
What three things would you tell someone who wants to get into writing for young people?
1. Pour a lot of yourself into the books. Write them to amuse yourself as well as young readers. It layers the work and allows you to genuinely work through your own life-challenges and questions.
2. Read lots of books for the age group you want to write for. Work out what you love, what you don’t and what your stories might do that other writers aren’t doing.
3. Try to enjoy it. It really is one of the best jobs on the planet but, sometimes, when you get busy and you’re writing one book, editing another, speaking a lot, trying to do charitable work etc, you can forget how extraordinarily lucky you are. I try to touch base with the Zen concept of ‘beginner’s mind’ on a regular basis. It helps keep the writing spontaneous, messy and joyous.
If you want to know more about Tristan’s writing visit his website www.tristanbancks.com. His next release is the third book in the My Life series of weird, funny, sometimes gross, illustrated short stories.