Author Interview with David ‘Starchy’ Lawrence, writer of ‘Fox Swift’ with Cyril Rioli, illustrated by Jo Gill and published by Slattery Media launched on June 29th.
Hey, Starchy, thanks for coming onto my blog today. I absolutely love your new book ‘Fox Swift’ written with star Hawthorn player, Cyril Rioli and illustrated by the talented Jo Gill. It’s a cracker of a story and if you just bare with me I’ll get my questions sorted here…
‘Fox Swift’ is an 11-year-old football star. When his family moves from the city to the small country town of Davinal, Fox has to choose which of the town’s two teams to join: the rich Dragons, which attracts all the best young footballers, or the Diggers, a struggling club that battles to field a side each week. Following a run-in with the captain of the Dragons, Fox decides to join the Diggers, and even manages to recruit a few new players— two Sudanese refugees, the mumbling but super-tough son of a farmer, and a girl who plays in a helmet to disguise her identity—and even a new coach. When the coach contacts AFL ‘magician’ Cyril Rioli, the Aussie Rules superstar agrees to lend his football expertise to the struggling team. With Cyril’s help, can the Diggers change their fortunes and win the premiership? And can Fox and his new friends prevail over the school bullies?
OK, here we go. Starchy, tells us about your background and how you got into writing?
Like most writers I started out as a financial analyst. To the ‘delight’ of my parents I threw in that well paid, secure job and started doing stand up comedy. I wrote and performed in a number of Comedy Festival Shows and that helped me get my first TV job: writing for the sketch comedy show ‘The Big Bite’. It starred Chris Lilley, Andrew O’Keefe and most importantly Jo Gill – Jo is the comedian who drew all the funny cartoons in ‘Fox Swift’.
On one of the TV shows I worked on I briefly met the Australian netballer Eloise Southby-Halbish. Eloise told the Executive Producer she wanted to write a book and the Executive Producer recommended she work with me. (Even though I had never written a book – thanks Deb!) The result was ‘Anna Flowers’ which has just been re-printed and re-released.
Tell us about ‘Fox Swift’, Starch? How long did this book take to plan and write?
‘Fox Swift’ is the story of an 11 year-old footy star whose family moves from the City to a country town. There are two teams in the town, the Dragons who have fantastic facilities and win all the time, and The Diggers who can barely field a side each week. Fox decides to play for The Diggers (because The Dragon’s Captain is the school bully) and tries to turn around their fortunes with the help of Cyril Rioli and a number of quirky new recruits.
The Publisher (Slattery Media Group) set me the task of coming up with a one page idea for the book that would convince Cyril Rioli it would be a worthwhile and fun project to be involved in. Fortunately, Cyril really liked the idea; especially that one of the key aims was to encourage kids to read.
The book was written and illustrated over a five-month period, with most of the writing being done on weekends from late January to early April.
(That’s so awesomely fast. I feel ashamed how long it takes me to write stuff)
What were some of the biggest challenges in writing it?
Making sure I was in the mindset of an 11 year old and avoiding the use of words or concepts that kids could not relate to. To assist in this endeavor, as part of the writing process I would send out each chapter to a small group of boys and girls and gather their feedback. They were fantastic and (brutally!) honest. Most of these boys and girls weren’t footy ‘nuts’ – that was important as I wanted the story to stand on its own.
How did you come up with the twist in your storyline for your character Lewis Rioli? It was very clever.
I love stories with a twist and I didn’t want Fox Swift to be totally predictable. Kids are often pigeon-holed because of who their parents or brothers and sisters are, and they can suffer as a result of unfair expectations. The point of that twist was to encourage kids to be themselves and not worry about other people’s expectations. It was also to emphasise that incredible results can come from using your brain and working as a team.
Your quirky footy glossary was hilarious. What made you put this into the book?
Thanks! – As mentioned earlier, I really wanted the book to appeal to as many kids as possible – not just footy fans. So I included some funny definitions of footy terms to make the story more accessible to readers who might be confused by phrases such as ‘Ball Up’ or ‘Throw In’.
What do you like most about writing for children?
They are less cynical than older humans! Children generally have excellent imaginations, allowing them to be easily transported into the world you are writing about. I also like making kids laugh – hopefully my books achieve this but also make them think about issues like bullying and racism without sounding too ‘preachy’.
What was it like working with Cyril Rioli?
It was a great experience. I really enjoyed meeting and discussing the book with Cyril – he is quiet, incredibly modest and humble, yet extremely competitive. Cyril is living proof you don’t have to have an ‘in your face’/ ‘look at me’ persona to be a successful sportsperson. His stories about playing junior footy in the Tiwi Islands and the Northern Territory are wonderful – his tale about being attacked by plovers made it into ‘Fox Swift’.
Cool. I hate plovers but magpies are the worst.
Kids love Cyril and the fact that the training drills in the book have come from an AFL champion is a huge bonus. I met Cyril’s Dad a few weeks ago (He is a ‘Cyril’ too, as is Cyril’s Grandfather!) and he is such a cool guy. He played in 12 Premiership sides and was a star footballer as well.
What inspires you, Starch?
There is nothing better than receiving an email from a 9 year-old saying they don’t normally read at all, but they loved ‘Fox Swift’. I remember being invited to speak to a Mother-Daughter book club (they were reading ‘Anna Flowers’) – I was amazed because everyone knew a lot more about the book than I did! One of the mothers took me aside and in tears thanked me for ‘Anna Flowers’. She explained that through the book she’d been able to talk to her daughter for the first time about her own traumatic experiences with racism when she had first arrived in Australia. She said the discussion with her daughter had brought them a lot closer together.
Unless you are JK Rowling, you don’t get paid very much to write a book, but stories like these certainly make it an incredibly rewarding experience.
What’s your next writing project?
Hopefully Fox Swift 2* – I notice there’s an email address at the back of the book that asks readers for their suggestions for the next installment, so it sounds like the Publisher thinks there’s more to come!
* Will probably need to come up with a more imaginative title!
Well, I for one cannot wait until the next instalment of Fox Swift.
Congratulations to you Starch, and to Jo Gill and Cyril Rioli. What a great read for 10 – 12 year olds and big kids like me. This books is a page-turner, it’s hilariously funny and quirky and it’s not just for footy mad children, any child can read this and enjoy it. In the back is ‘A quirky Footy Dictionary’ that’s an absolute crack up.
And at time when our great game has been under a bit of a cloud, you’ve done us proud!
Hey, that rhymes…there might be something in that…
YOU can read more about ‘Fox Swift’ at…http://www.slatterymedia.com/uploads/store_items/fox-swift–/files/look_inside.pdf
You get to read the First Chapter for free! How cool is that?!
‘Fox Swift’ is available at any good bookstore or on-line in the the Slattery Bookstore https://www.slatterymedia.com/store/viewItem/fox-swift-
Published July 2013
David Lawrence, is a comedy writer whose TV credits include Hamish & Andy, TV Burp and Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. He runs the successful comedy business Laughing Matters and has performed in five Melbourne International Comedy shows. He has won three Brownlow medals in a parallel universe.
Also, you just have to check out Starchy’s re-released book ‘Anna Flowers’. Starchy wrote this with the now retired Australian netball ace, the lovely Eloise Southby-Halbish.
Following the death of her mother, Anna Flowers must leave behind her childhood home and move with her father Ken to the town of Peppersalt, hundreds of kilometres away. The only people she knows in Peppersalt are her boring Aunt Gladys and crazy Nana Bessie.
To make matters worse, on the first day of school Anna has a run in with the school bully and netball captain Michelle—whose father is Ken’s nasty new boss. However, with the help of Nana Bessie, who used to play netball for Australia, and her group of friends, known as the ‘Misfits’, Anna is determined to silence Michelle and become a netball star.
Anna Flowers is a story of courage and determination, both on and off the court. The book offers a unique perspective on netball, while exploring the obstacles that arise when trying to find your place in a new environment, including the difficulties fitting in and making new friends.
Stay tuned, tomorrow I will be interviewing the talented Jo Gill, the illustrator of ‘Fox Swift’
Ciao for now 🙂