As a reviewer I am torn by ethical issues when I have a friend or colleague's book to review. Can I review it objectively. Yes, I know I can. but will my review have credibility? I hope so. The readers will eventually decide for themselves. But sometimes a book is so good there is no question of a review being anything other than - This book is wonderful!
So to celebrate the release of my friend Mo Johnson's wonderful book Something More (and to remind everyone of her other wonderful book Boofheads) I have written a poem:
There once was a woman called Mo
who thought she’d give writing a go
'If I put my foot to the floor
I can write Something More
than most of those Boofheads I know.'
The sentiments are mine and so is the awful rhyme. I think it's time I stopped putting words in Mo's mouth and let her speak for herself :
Isla is a Scottish lass from Glasgow and so is Mo Johnson. Is that where the similarities end?
No. Isla’s Custard Pie theory is mine. Her frequently red face is definitely mine and her phobias of driving lessons and swimming pools are all mine. The Dad in my book was my mine too. I didn’t set out to write about my own Dad, it just happened. My Mum and my sister have read the book and both tell me I’ve captured him perfectly. Sadly he died eleven years ago when he was only 54 but I’m sure if he doesn’t agree, I’ll get a sign from him some how.
Do you draw on your experience as a teacher? Will some students recognise snippets from the book?
After 21 years of teaching it’s hard not to draw on my experience and yes I do think some kids will recognize snippets of themselves in there. In fact after Boofheads came out I had lots of boys determined to do just that. ‘I’m in there, Miss, aren’t I?’ they would say eagerly. Of course I would tell them they were just to please them.
Sam, Jack and Isla are all handy with a camera. Are you a photographer?
I did a lot of filming as a teacher. My friend Jo Cologon and I made three or four promotional videos for the College every year and to do so we had to take photos all year round of college life. I have become very interested in photography and love to play around with a camera.
It's interesting that you chose your local area for the setting although it could just as easily any number of Australian coastal towns? Why choose your own backyard for the setting?
I wanted to promote the Illawarra. I live in such a beautiful part of the world and the stretch of road from Stanwell Park to Bulli (NSW) is among the most spectacular driving routes in Australia. It’s equal to anything you’ll see on the Great Ocean Road in VIC. Many people who live in Sydney still don’t know it exists.
I started this novel in 2004 and at that time the community down here was doing it tough with the closure of the road at Clifton while they built the magnificent Sea Cliff Bridge. Two communities were cut off for over two years. Many businesses folded and people had to travel further to get to Sydney. My own son had to change schools in the end because we couldn’t get him there.
When I wrote about the bridge in the book it still wasn’t finished. Now it’s been open for a couple of years and the book has just been released today. You definitely need to be patient as a writer.
You have now written one novel with a male protagonist and one with a female. Do you have a preference? Does one feel more comfortable than the other?
I think it’s easier to write as a girl. The hardest thing about being Tommo form Boofheads was to keep pulling back from being too ‘flowery’ in his expressions. But I don’t think I have a preference. Both characters were so strong in my head that I just listened to them and wrote what they said.
A picture book, a chapter book, a young adult novel. All in the space of a few years Will we see an adult work from Mo in the future?
I am currently working on a the memoir of Kerryn McCann who as many people will know was an Olympic and Commonwealth Games marathon runner. She was a friend of mine and we had been working on her story for seven months prior to her death in December 2008 from Breast cancer. So non fiction at this level is definitely new for me.
There's a strong element of romance in something More as opposed to the all male view on relationships in Boofheads. Is romance a genre we might see more of?
My next YA novel is actually more of a ghost story at the moment. I think romance might just sneak in there too. It’s hard to avoid it when you are trying to write about relationships in an authentic way. We all have little bits and pieces of Romance in our lives however we choose to define the term.
Gran McGonnigle's words of wisdom precede each chapter. She's a feisty character with a strong presence despite not appearing in the book. is there a real Gran McG? How hard was it to think of her Grannisms?
Her grannisms were such fun to write and not difficult at all. There were five Gran McGonnigles in my life. My Mum’s mum did actually say the thing about people dying now who didn’t die before.
My dad’s mum died of TB when he was three. His father was fighting in France and wasn’t demobbed until Dad was nearly six. When my grandmother first got ill she and my dad moved in with her four unmarried sisters who consequently raised Dad after she died. My grandfather did his best when he returned from war but couldn’t look after a small child who pined to be back with his four aunts.
In the end he went back to live with them and didn’t leave them until he married Mum. They lived on a street where the old toll gates for trams once crossed so the area was called Tollcross. As kids we called them The Aunts at Tollcross. (There’s a book in that one day for sure). They were seriously nutty and eccentric. We used to visit them every Sunday. I guess that’s where the inspiration for the grannisms came from.
In your wildest dreams what do you hope to achieve as an author? feel free to be as wild as you like.
An all expenses paid trip to the UK to promote my books, followed by a couple of appearances in New York. Ha Ha … as if.
I would also love to write a screen play.