I wrote this about my 2021 kids' book, The Lanternist, but it was never used anywhere, so here it is!
Books are not about the bothersome business of becoming an adult, so much as the desperate desire to avoid growing up. Although bodies get bigger, dream worlds don’t change, and it’s here that most of us feel most comfortable. So, halfway through my supposedly grown-up life, I’ve decided it’s time to write stories for the little person I was, for the kids I’ve taught for twenty-five years, but also, for the sulking, not-quite-happy adults who inhabit a world of tax returns, lawnmowers and sensible things.
When I was very young I sat on the floor in a charity shop (the sort full of musty clothes and Perry Como records) and leafed through a book about an elephant hatching an egg. My gran volunteered at Vinnies once a week, dragged me along, placed me in a forest of old frocks where I worked out that wardrobes weren’t for clothes, but entering other (more interesting) worlds. The back of my wardrobe didn’t seem to budge, but in a way, it did. Children’s books, after all, are the first stories, the original images to fire our imagination, take us around the world in eighty days, or twenty thousand leagues under the sea. So I’m excited to have MidnightSun publish my story, the story of Tom Eliot, the lanternist’s apprentice.
The Lanternist is set in 1901, an era of unstoppable change. Australia is about to become a federation, our cities are growing, immigrants arriving, the first cars replacing horse-and-cart. War, and a century of change, is just around the corner. Tom and his dad travel the country giving magic lantern shows, animating wild lions and sinking ships on the walls of institutes and town halls. This book is about the art of story, and imagination, something all of us risk losing in the age of white noise. After his dad sets off in search of his lost mother, Tom fends for himself, surviving the back alleys, the bear baiting, the crime gangs of Adelaide’s inner-west. As with the Eliot magic lantern shows, each chapter is framed by a slide, a glimpse of colour, movement and magic.
I’ve tried to capture the feeling of listening, of seeing, of succumbing to story for the first time. The voice in your ear, leading you through strange places, describing wild animals, but also, the kid sitting in the corner of the room, abandoned, shivering, waiting for love.
Recently, I’ve returned to the books of my childhood: The Human Comedy, The Little Prince, even the day-dreamish verses of When We Were Very Young: strange, unexplored worlds that turned me into a writer. I hope other kids, and adults, find some of this in The Lanternist. You never outgrow the need to know what’s in the darkest part of the forest.
Welcome to Datsunland! This is a second hand car yard of the speeches I've given, the columns I've written, the essays, microgrammes, micro-fiction and micro-thoughts that have passed through my small, shy brain. Also, stuff so strange no newspapers, websites or publishers want them.