An Interview with Aussie Author Tony Wilson

by Malcolm Neil

Tony Wilson is having quite a year.

Recent highlights include a CBCA shortlisted children’s picture book; the launch of his speech aggregation site Speakola; producing and directing his first film, the documentary The Galahs; and the upcoming children’s series with Harper Collins featuring noted Aussie rules football brothers, the Selwoods.

In between his prodigious output, Tony squeezes in features for print media, public speaking and a whole lot of parenting (he has four young chidren).

We caught up with the cross media star in Melbourne to talk about the joy of writing for children, how he balances his many professional responsibilities and what he’s reading now.

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The old Abbotsford convent in Melbourne is Australia’s largest multi-arts precinct. The ex-monastic site is home to over 100 studios, two galleries a radio station, a school and an abundance of green space. The perfect place for a writer’s studio.

You are a busy man Tony. You’ve got a house full of kids and a way too many projects on the go. How do you fit your writing into your schedule?

A typical day starts with dropping the two eldest kids at primary school. My writing day starts when I get to the Abbotsford convent at 10 am.

While there, and that’s usually about six hours, I commit to writing ‘something’ like the Selwood Boys books, a mag article or a picture book or working towards a new pitch.

I use the app “Freedom” to avoid distractions and stay productive.

I finish the day curating and adding to Speakola, building the brand as the major categorized speech archive on the web.

Are there any books that have helped you build career?

There are two books that stand out, books that made me, as a satirist and humorist want to write.

High fidelity by Nick Hornby 

One of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and one that spoke to my age group. It works so well because it’s a funny book that also says something about the world. A great achievement.

Dead Famous by Ben Elton   

Thematically this book is very similar to my novel Players. For a long while I used to read a few pages before I started writing as a sort of a ‘warm-up’ book

Two books that are massively influential on me are Catch 22, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Both are masterpieces that as a reader helped create me as a person.

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Tony Wilson – feigning productivity

You’ve been quite successful writing for children with a CBCA shortlisted picture book this year, and a new series coming out in November for slightly older kids. What’s your secret for creating engaging content for kids?

I don’t think it’s surprising that it’s the same as for adults. It’s all about coherent storytelling and using everyday language that is understood by everyone.

Of course it gets edited down a bit more for kids, I’m a sweary kind of guy so that has to disappear for a start. It‘s also about selecting what’s funny. Primary school kids for example have a very particular sense of humour (Tony told us a story about a sex scene in his novel Making News here that is hilarious and DEFINTLY NOT suitable for kids).

Do you road test everything you write on your own kids? What are their favourite stories?

Yes, I absolutely use them to road test, but unfortunately they aren’t as enthusiastic as I’d like them to be. (Tony has a VERY dry sense of humour) Polly (my eldest) is a good sounding board, so she’s my chief reader before I send them off. I do a lot of picture books though, and making them read picture books just as text is a bit rough. Once the books are out though, they love that their friends read them, love being insiders, and they take them to show and tell.

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from L-R Jack, Harry, Polly and Alice

Do you think you’ll go back to writing novels? (Tony won the SMH young writers award in 2006)

I do. I’ve got a couple of ideas but unlike my other writing it’s a mostly uneconomic proposition, closer to a hobby than a career. It’s the reason I try so many things, a writer needs to achieve prominence so while I wait for that to happen I combine it with a career in public speaking. I just can’t afford a year in a cave developing the next great satirical novel.

Your next books are the start of a series “The Selwood Boys” to be published by Harper Collins, can you tell us how that came about?

Instead of the usual way things work a major publisher actually approached me to write a series. It’s kids fiction based on the lives of AFL champions, the Selwood boys, a family of 4 brothers who all have successful AFL careers. I think what appealed was we had similar childhoods, spent mostly of dreaming to play football (Tony actually got as far as the Hawthorn reserves) and I’ve been surprised how much fun it is to write. The first two books in the series are due for release on October 24.

Finally, do you find the time to do any reading and if so what’s on your reading list right now?

Floundering by Romy Ash

Wonder Trail by Steve Hely

Eye of the Sheep by Sophie Laguna 

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