Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Nat is a kid’s author. She has written Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire, and her latest book, out today, is The Power of Positive Pranking. Nat also runs one of my favourite podcasts, One More Page with Liz Ledden and Kate Simpson, which focuses on Aussie kids books and is a fantastic place to go when looking for your next read or your kid’s next read. Like many authors, Nat had all kinds of awesome events planned around the release of her new book, and visits to bookstores – including my favourite. It would have been really cool to meet Nat – we’ll save that for when we can both get to the best bookstore ever! This is one of my most enthusiastic and fun interviews – they all have been but something about Nat’s books made this loads of fun and hopefully it is filled with laughter for my readers. This was one I wanted to share early, but we both agreed to tee it up with the book release! So enjoy!
Hi Nat and welcome to The Book Muse!
- I recently read and reviewed Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire – to begin, where did that idea come from, and how did Tess form in your mind?
The idea originally came from a tiny little newspaper article about a 10-year-old girl in the US who got busted with twenty grand in her school locker. There was no explanation as to how it got there and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. As far as Tess goes, I think anyone who knows me will tell you that there is quite a bit of me in Tess. I was always scheming and scamming when I was a kid and always had (and still do have) a new project on the boil every day.
- Your second book, The Power of Positive Pranking has just come out – what exactly is positive pranking?
Positive Pranking brings together a few ideas. Firstly, the grey area between right and wrong. I love playing with this as a concept. The idea of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. So using the power of being an awesome prankster for positive reasons/effects. Also, it plays with the idea that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to bring about change. When kids were missing school to participate in climate change rallies, there were a lot of adults saying ‘they should be in school’ or ‘this is not the way to bring about change’ but I think it’s very arrogant to suggest that there is a ‘right’ way to change the world. Effecting change is difficult and it’s hard to know how it should be done. But we have to try.
- Have you ever played any positive pranks on anyone, and what were they?
Oh dear, plenty! Some of the pranks in this book are based on VERY personal experiences but to protect the innocent (and more importantly, the guilty) I cannot admit which ones.
- Prior to these novels, have you had anything else published?
No. Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire was my first publication. Well, that’s not quite true, I had a poem published in a poetry anthology when I was in high school, but other than that…no. The Power of Positive Pranking will be book number two and I have signed two more contracts with Penguin Random House for upcoming books.
- Are there any noteworthy awards under your belt?
I had a pretty amazing year at the CYA conference in 2018 where I placed 1st & 2nd in the Picture Book category and 2nd in the Chapter Book for Younger Readers. That same year I was also a recipient of the Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program. It’s also the year I signed my first book contract. 2018 was a big year for me! I also just found out the Secrets Of A Schoolyard Millionaire was Australia’s #1 best-selling debut Aussie Children’s Fiction in 2019 and it’s been sold into three other territories. So that’s pretty awesome!
- I absolutely love your podcast with Kate and Liz, One More Page. Where did the idea for the podcast come from, and how do you go about choosing your books for each episode?
Kate, Liz and I wanted to share our love of kids’ books and provide a platform for Australian kidlit authors to really shine. It was before any of us were published but we were deeply involved in the kidlit community and just wanted a way to share the love. We were fans of podcasts and so thought it would be a great medium. At that stage, no one else was really doing a podcast that was specifically about Australian kids’ books (that we knew of) and so we thought it would work well. We get sent many, many, MANY books and review requests from publishers and authors and we choose them like we might in a book shop…whatever grabs us. We read heaps of books and then review the ones we really love.
- If you had a million dollars like Tess and Toby, what would you do with it?
I honestly think I would probably do ‘a Tess’. Splurge in the beginning – throw parties, hire jumping castles, eat way too many lollies – and then settle down and work out what good I could do with the money.
- Serious question now: Most authors have had launches, and various literary events or conferences cancelled due to the pandemic – what have you had to cancel or reschedule, and which were you most looking forward to?
Aw it hurts a bit to answer this. I had a really incredible couple of months lined up, and it’s all been cancelled unfortunately. I had an awesome book launch planned. I’d hired a whole hall and was going to deck it out in blue and yellow with custom printed fart cushions for all the kids and a ‘safe snack table’ and a ‘prank snack table’ for those who were game. I was then meant to head off on a national book tour including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, including TV appearances, school visits, book signings and a whole lot of crazy Nat-shenanigans. But a really big one that hurt, was I had been invited to host the Primary School Days Program at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you’ve never been to one before it’s like a massive book rock concert in front of HUNDREDS of kids. They completely FILL Town Hall and other venues. It was already sold out. I was SO looking forward to getting crazy with all those kids, spreading the absolute joy of reading and meeting kidlit superstars like Raina Telgemeier (I would have been a TOTAL fan girl). I was also lined up to host one of the Family Program days. Amelia Lush had put together SUCH an amazing program for the 2020 festival and I am so gutted it’s been cancelled. We just have to rally together when this is all over and whole-heartedly support festivals like this when they make a come-back because the writing world would be a MUCH sadder place without them.
- I remember you told me you had an event booked at my local indie, BookFace Erina – is this the kind of event you think will be rescheduled, and have you ever been to BookFace?
I haven’t YET. But I am VERY much looking forward to a visit and I’m sure it will happen as soon as the world returns to normal-ish. I think I was a Central-Coastian in a past life. I just love it up there. My mentor and close friend Cathie Tasker lives up there and so I go up to visit quite often. Even if the event isn’t rescheduled, next time I’m allowed to visit Cathie, I’m DEFINITELY dropping in to BookFace…so keep your eye out!
- What made you decide to do your book-inspired dance videos during isolation?
Honestly? I looked at all the amazing things authors were doing and I really wanted to contribute but I was also going a bit bananas in isolation. Being stuck inside is pretty hard on me and with school visits cancelled, I don’t have the same avenues to burn my energy…and there’s a LOT of it! I used to be a dance fitness instructor and so I just decided to combine my two loves – books and dance – and create Book’N’Boogie! It’s as much for me as anyone who’s watching! I really need to shake it out every couple of days. But I’ve been getting sent heaps of videos of kids dancing along with me and it just makes my heart burst!
- Your Gif game on Twitter is really cool – what is it about this medium that you enjoy, and do you enjoy Gif wars?
The discovery of GIFs changed my life. I’m such a visual and expression-using person (is that even a word?) and I love how GIFs capture an entire feeling in just a moment. And when you get JUST the right one, it’s like nailing a joke – it just feels so perfect! I taught my dad how to GIF and now we barely use words when we text – just GIF after GIF after GIF. I also wrote a complete story with illustrator James Foley on Twitter DM once using only GIFs, and I still go back and look at it when I need a giggle.
- If you could meet any kid’s author, who would it be, and why?
Paul Jennings. Although technically I did meet him when I was about 10 AND I got to interview him in 2017 for the podcast (although it was online not face to face). But I still think it would be him again. Or maybe Jon Klassen. I feel like I would enjoy his sense of humour.
- What kids’ books should everyone read, regardless of their age?
Oh there are SO many. Sentimentally, I would say Uncanny by Paul Jennings and Skymaze by Gillian Rubenstein because I think both those books played a huge role in my desire to become a writer. But I believe heavily in supporting current authors, so I think you MUST read A Cardboard Palace by Allayne Webster and Vincent and the Grandest Hotel On Earth by Lisa Nicol. They are both brilliant and shouldn’t be missed.
- Which Hogwarts house do you think you belong in, and who would your Hogwarts crew have been?
Okay, so I wasn’t actually sure of the answer for this one so I just did an online quiz and it told me Gryffindor. That sounds about right to me. I reckon my crew would include Ron, Hagrid, Luna, Dobby (personal fav!), Sirius and probably Nymphadora Tonks. And then any of those other cool magic creatures that wanna hang with us – a hippogriff pet would totally rock!
- If you weren’t a kid’s author, what would your dream job be and why?
I would love to be either a Kid’s TV Show host, preferably a show where there was a lot of slime involved OR a homicide investigator. I know they don’t seem to go hand in hand but two of my biggest loves are slime and true crime – AND THEY RHYME!
- What are your go-to movies or television shows when not reading and writing?
I ALWAYS go back to the 80s. The Goonies, The Princess Bride, The Never Ending Story, The Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Blues Brothers, Stand By Me, Willow, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Beetlejuice…I can be lost for hours in the 80s. I’ll watch these movies over and over and NEVER get sick of them.
- Favourite music, band or song, and why?
Favourite bands are The Lucksmiths (not together anymore but still a fav) because of their awesome lyrics, super dance-y tunes and because they were the soundtrack to my high school years and some of the best times of my life were to tune of The Lucksmiths. Also Cat Empire because I cannot not dance when I hear them. All-time favourite song is hard but might be ‘What I Like About You’ by The Romantics because, well just listen to it and tell me it’s not THE BEST!
- Cats or dogs?
Dogs. But actually monkeys, if that was an option.
- Favourite writing snack, and what happens when you run out of it?
Coffee. I don’t really snack while I write but I devour coffee! I don’t run out of it. Ever! It’s not an option. I wouldn’t operate. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it. I better have a coffee.
- What’s next in terms of books?
Well, obviously trying to get The Power Of Positive Pranking out into the world. It’s going to take some creative approaches because I usually love the face to face contact with kids and booksellers to get my books out there in the world. In Corona-time, I’m gonna to have to get creative. I’ll miss meeting people, but hopefully it won’t be too long till I’m back out there in schools and shops and libraries, causing trouble. Then I have two more books currently set for 2021. One which is already written and is a stand-alone, not related to my previous books. And one which is not written (eeeekkkk!) and is planned to be the third in the ‘Watterson World’ – so connected to my first two books. Then I will have fulfilled all current contracts and I can really have a good think about what it is next. The world is my sea slug! That’s the saying right?
Any further comments?
You rock! And thanks so much for supporting kids’ authors in these tough times. We sooooooooo appreciate you!