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 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.
George Ivanoff is an actor and author of books aimed at younger readers, such as the Other Worlds series. George didn’t have any launches cancelled, but he had many author and school appearances cancelled. Here, he talks about writing, acting and his Other Worlds series, and what he had to cancel.
Any out of date information in this and other interviews is due to when they were conducted, and when they were returned as this influenced the posting schedule when I started putting this series together.
Hi George and welcome to The Book Muse
- As an author of over 100 books for kids and teenagers, when did you decide you wanted to write for this age group?
I’m not sure there was ever a conscious decision. I write the sort of stuff that I like reading, and I generally prefer reading books aimed at kids and teens. I was a reluctant reader throughout most of primary school, so I came to reading rather late; which might explain why I still read books aimed at younger readers. I do read grown-up stuff as well, but while I’m fine with non-fiction, I find that many grown-up novels take way too long to get to the point. (There are exceptions of course — Agatha Christie, for example, always manages to keep my attention.) I guess it comes down to the fact that I have a short attention span and have never completely grown up!
- What are your favourite genres to write in, and why these in particular?
I like writing in a variety of genres, but my favourite is science fiction. It is the genre of possibilities.
- Does your background as an actor help when writing novels and creating characters?
Yes. I often say that doing an acting course was the best thing I ever did for my writing. There are a lot of similarities between writing and acting — immersing yourself in the world of the story; creating characters; and taking risks. Actors and writers both put themselves out there, running the risk of ridicule. Studying the craft of acting taught me to take risks… which helped to develop my writing. Prior to studying acting, I was very timid and risk averse about most things, including my writing.
- What might readers have seen you acting in?
Back in the day, I did a lot of small parts in films and TV shows. I remember with great fondness, playing a pot plant deliveryman on Neighbours in the 90s. They insisted I do it with an ocker Aussie accent… which, of course, I could not do convincingly. I was in the credits as “Pot Man”… just above the dog. Other roles included playing an arsonist on Australia’s Most Wanted, and an officious army officer in the WW1 film William Kelly’s War. In addition to that, I also did many jobs as an extra (one of those uncredited background people). Those jobs included being a scantily clad, red-headed warrior in the appalling Journey to the Centre of the Earth mini-series, and being a mystical, cross-dressing neo-Nazi in a red sequinned evening gown on that ‘classic’ television series Chances. I got to spend hours pretending to be dead, lying in the mud, in the middle of the night, with giant cranes spraying water to simulate rain, for the concluding shooting-out of Ned Kelly; and Nicolas Cage almost ran me over in a 4WD during the shooting of a massive crowd scene in the Melbourne CBD for The Knowing.
I don’t do much in the way of acting these days… it’s now mostly an occasionally paying hobby. Aside from my own book trailers, my most recent bit of acting was in the sci-fi, comedy audio series Night Terrace. I had a guest role in the Season 2 episode “A Verb of Nouns”, in which I play a slightly shifty and mysterious writer named Scribe. This was a super cool job, as I was such a big fan of the first season. And recently I had the pleasure of writing a short story based on the series for their Season 3 Kickstarter campaign.
You can hear a brief clip of me in Night Terrace here.
- One of your series is the Other Worlds series, which features various forms of diversity such as disability, which appears in book two with Xandra. How much research did you do for each character to make sure they felt authentic for the reader?
I had quite short deadlines on these books, so my research was mostly internet based. But I also had a chat to a nurse friend of mine, whose nephew has muscular dystrophy, about the character of Xandra and how I would handle her situation. My portrayal isn’t always 100% accurate. I did, for example, take some creative liberty with her wheelchair. It’s a motorised wheelchair, but I have her younger brother push it at one point… which my friend assured me would not be possible. But I did it anyway, as I felt the story point outweighed the need for realism in that circumstance.
- Beast World has a very steampunk feel to it – did you choose the steampunk theme, or did it evolve naturally as you came up with the plot? (I love the animals as the royals as well)
The steampunk setting and the talking animals were the first two things I decided on when I planned out that story. I love the Victorian era and I desperately wanted to play in a steampunk world. It was that setting which then lead to other decisions, such as animal counterparts for some historical figures, like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Coming across pics of the Crystal Palace while researching the Victorian era resulted in The Great Exhibition being woven into the plot. And the ability to have all sorts of steampunk gadgets, lead to Xandra being wheelchair bound… because leaving the wheelchair behind meant I could put her into a cool steam-powered walking chair.
- Apart from Other Worlds, you write lots of choose your own adventure books – what is it about this style that appeals to you, and how well does it adapt itself to a variety of genres?
My You Choose books came about because I loved the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels when I was younger. As a kid I loved the fact that I had some control over the story and that I could re-read the books and end up with completely different outcomes. I thought that was just so unbelievably cool! It also appealed to my obsessive nature and the need to discover every possible permutation of a story. As a writer, I love the process of coming up with multiple paths and finding ways for them to intertwine. I’ve written 13 books in the series and had so much fun with them. As a format, I think it can be combined with pretty much any genre. I certainly used a number of different genres — sci-fi, fantasy, horror, action/adventure, comedy.
- What other series and books do you write, and are they all in the same general genre, or do you like to dabble in a variety of genres based on the book?
I do enjoy dabbling with genre, style and format. My current series in non-fiction. The Australia Survival Guide came out last year, and I’m going through proofs at the moment for the second book, The Human Body Survival Guide. With these books, I’m trying to take a fun and creative approach to kids’ non-fiction. There is a nameless, video game obsessed, 13-year-old boy who narrates these books and presents the factual information.
But I’ve also written realistic adventure with the RFDS Adventures, YA sci-fi with the Gamers Trilogy and a heap of educational books (including school readers and non-fiction tied in to the Australian Curriculum).
- Have you ever written for older audiences, and what have you written for them?
Yes, I’ve written numerous short stories, usually sci-fi and fantasy, for grown-up audiences. I have a particular interest in media tie-in fiction. It is a difficult area to break into, but I’ve managed to get a few things through. In 2016 I had a story called “An Eye For an Eye” in The X-Files: Secret Agendas and the following year a story called “Another Man’s Skin” in the Deadworld Anthology. They were definitely NOT for kids. I’m currently writing a novel for the Lethbridge-Stewart range of books (a spin-off from Doctor Who, following the adventures of Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart). That’s for a general audience — so, while aimed at adults in terms of story complexity, it still needs to be reasonably safe for younger readers.
- Have you had any new books released, or scheduled to be released in the next few months, and if so, what are they?
The Gamers Trilogy was recently re-branded and published with new titles and covers in March. My next book, The Human Body Survival Guide, is not due out until 15 September.
- Did you have to cancel any launches, events or appearances of any kind due to the COVID-19 crisis?
No cancelled launches, as the Gamers relaunch happened a few weeks before lockdown. But lots of cancelled/postponed speaking gigs, from school visits to library talks to festivals. While I understand that the circumstances make this necessary, it has been so very disappointing. I love interacting with kids during school visits, and other authors during festivals. The majority of my working life is spent in solitary confinement in front of my computer, so I cherish these forays out into the wider world.
To compensate, I am now offering virtual sessions, and have got a few lined up already. The first is a class about writing for the primary education market coming up on 4 May. And I’ve put together avideo about virtual presentations for schools.
But nothing really compares to face-to-face interaction, and I can’t wait for life to return to normal.
- Do you have plans for any new novels, new series or additions to series like Other Worlds?
Everything is a bit up in the air at the moment. Once I’ve finished working on the Lethbridge-Stewart novel, I’m scheduled to have a chat with my publisher at Penguin Random House about what I do next with them. I’ve got LOTS of ideas.
- Favourite writing snack?
Chocolate! Always… chocolate!
- You’ve worked with various state reading challenges – what do you enjoy about working to help build these challenges?
I love that these reading challenges exist. They’re a great way of getting kids enthused about reading. I’ve not actually worked with them, as such. They’ve simply chosen some of my books for their recommended reading lists… which is VERY COOL! Also, in 2018, the organisers of the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge interviewed me, along with a bunch of other authors and illustrators, for a series of video promos. That was a lot of fun.
- As an author, what do you think books can do for people during the pandemic?
What can’t they do??!! Just like at any other time, books have the ability to entertain and educate. They help people empathise and see other points of view. They provide an escape. They allow people to visit places they have never been to and interact with people they have never met. But in this time of pandemic, with self-isolation and social distancing, they have also become a lifeline — a way to still connect and not feel so alone.
- Which local booksellers do you love to frequent and support?
I love bookshops! And I am lucky to live close to a number of really good ones. Ordinarily, when not in lockdown, I travel around quite a bit for speaking gigs, and I take the opportunity to visit as many bookshops as possible. I’m a Melbourne resident, and some of my favourites include The Little Bookroom (Carlton), Beaumaris Books (Beaumaris), The Sun Bookshop (Yarraville), Pictures & Pages (Coburg), Ulysses Bookstore (Sandringham), Dymocks Camberwell (Camberwell) and Eltham Bookshop (Eltham). Each of these shops have enthusiastic staff with a broad knowledge of what’s being published in Australia.
- As someone who works in the arts as a presenter, actor and author, what do you enjoy about working in the arts, and what additional support do you feel the arts sector needs to ensure its survival, especially during these times?
What I enjoy about the Arts sector is the creativity. For me it’s not just a job. It is something that I adore being involved in. It would be really nice if the government treated it with the same amount of respect they treat other sectors with. I get the distinct impression that the government simply does not take the Arts sector all that seriously… which is rather short sighted. Some basic support and respect would mean that we wouldn’t have to face threats to copyright or parallel importation restrictions — things that are fundamental to the Australian publishing industry and authors’ ability to earn money. In terms of our current situation, the federal stimulus package seems rather geared towards businesses and people in permanent employment. While there is some support to freelancers, accessing that support is so much more convoluted and difficult for people working in the Arts sector. Having said that, the Victorian State Government have apparently announced an Arts Survival Package. I haven’t had the chance to look into that yet, but it sounds hopeful.
- Finally, are there any future projects on the horizon?
There are numerous potential projects. But nothing set in concrete.
Any further comments?
During the pandemic self-isolation, I’ve been trying to put video readings up online once a week. It can’t replace face-to-face interaction… but at least it’s something to help fill the void. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep it up, but for the moment it is proving to be a fun distraction. And it’s a way of continuing to interact with readers and promoting my books. I do sometimes enlist the help of my family to assist in this online madness. My reading from The Australia Survival Guide (which is another example of my inability to do an Aussie accent) was directed/shot by my wife, and involved my 11-year-old throwing one of our pet chickens at me.
If you really feel the need to see some of my other readings, you can go to my YouTube Channel.
I should probably shut up now. I just realised how verbose I was being with the answers to some of these questions. If you made it this far without slipping into a coma… thank you!
Thank you George, and best of luck with everything,