I recently got the opportunity to talk to John Marsden, author of the best-selling ‘Tomorrow’ series. Here, John talks about his inspirations behind the series, what he thought of the recently released film of his first book, ‘Tomorrow, When The War Began’ and also gives some advice on how to be a successful writer….
Hey John, thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about the Tomorrow series. Obviously the film adaptation of the first book, ‘Tomorrow, When The War Began’ has just come out in UK cinemas and seems to be doing good worldwide. And from what you’ve told me, Quercus are just about to release the entire series in book format in the UK soon as well.
For anyone who hasn’t read the ‘Tomorrow’ series yet, how would you sum up the general plotline?
It always seems a bit lame when you tell someone the plotline of a book without giving them the context, but basically it’s set in the future where an unnamed country launches an attack on Australia.
What inspired you to write a book series about an invasion in Australia? How did the idea originally come about?
Partly from World War II. Even most Australians aren’t aware how close this country came to being invaded by Japan. Plus I was curious to know how today’s teenagers might react if they were placed in the kinds of situations that their grandparents and great grandparents faced back in the 20th century.
Out of all of the characters in the ‘Tomorrow’ series, which one do you most identify with and why?
Well possibly Chris, although I’m not sure that I should be proud of that. I never did drugs, but I wrote poetry and had a melancholy attitude to the world during my teen years – and beyond. I was quite an isolated kid: quite a solitary disposition.
If Australia was to get invaded tomorrow – (see what I did there) – would you fight like Ellie and her friends or find a place to hide out?
Oh well in daydreams of course you’re always the hero. So yes, in my daydreams I’m out there in the bush fighting a guerrilla war, displaying extraordinary heroism and courage. But in real life… I don’t know… I’d probably have a go, and then, at the last minute, as the firing squad lifted their rifles I’d be thinking “What a bloody stupid idiot I was. I should have surrendered…”
I best ask you the question everyone wants the answer to – what did you think of the movie? Did it impress you, being the author of the original text?
I actually loved it. I’m not sure if authors are meant to love movies of their books, but I thought it really worked, and I like the fact that it was done with integrity and sincere commitment.
How much involvement did you have in the production of the film? Obviously with Hollywood being as it is, I’m sure they continually asked you – should we put this in, should we take this out, etc?
Oh look, Stuart Beattie, the director, honestly, if his helicopter had landed in my backyard one more time, with Stuart frantically waving the script begging me to save the movie for him, I would have reached for the shotgun… No, actually, they kindly invited me to watch a day’s shooting, and gave my family and me a delicious free lunch, but that was the extent of my involvement!
Let’s talk a bit about you John. What made you want to be an author in the first place?
I think everybody has to express themselves creatively or else they’ll end up psychically very ill. It doesn’t matter what path you choose, whether it’s art, acting, music, dance, cake decorating, gardening, ceramics. For me it’s writing, because I love words and language, and I love stories.
What authors inspired you when you were a young teen?
The thriller writers, like Hammond Innes, Alistair Maclean and Ian Fleming. Shakespeare – I thought he was a bit of a gun. JD Salinger of course. Neville Shute – he was a good storyteller. Hermann Hesse.
What book / books are you currently reading at the minute?
I recently finished ‘The Dead I Know’, a terrific novel for teenagers by Australian writer Scot Gardner. Now I’m reading Gandhi’s autobiography ‘My Experiment With the Truth’, and ‘The Fable of All Our Lives’, a novel by one of my favourite writers, Peter Kocan.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become an author and writer?
You’ve got to get some words onto paper. Even if they’re not very good words, or not arranged in a very good order. At least then you’ll have something to work with. Don’t be afraid of writer’s block. Sooner or later the circuits will start to function again, and you’ll feel a burst of creative energy.
Once you have a finished document in front of you – what is the best way to get it seen by agents / literary companies?
Invest in a lot of stamps. And use any neighbour, friend or relative who has the remotest connection with a literary agency or a publishing house.
Is the literary business one of hardship and constant re-drafts as writers make it out to be? Do you find yourself always getting ‘No’s to certain chapters, etc.
No, it can be, but it’s not that way for everyone. Some people dash off a few thousand words and the next thing you know they’re on top of the New York Times bestseller list. There is no formula, no rules, no definitive statement that can be made about writing or writers – including that one.
How does it feel to have a series of books that are still being used in schools today as a way of getting young teens into reading?
It feels pretty damn good actually. I know these books have had a profound effect on some people, and that’s both humbling and exhilarating. I started dreaming of being a writer back in grade 4, when I was nine years old, and those dreams have come true in quite a spectacular fashion.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
These days I run a school, which is more than a full-time job. So I’m not doing so much writing. But my wife and I are hoping to be able to buy a little place in France where we can spend a month or two a year – that would be excellent – vraiment, tres bon!
Thanks for the interview!